Status of Ugandan Anti-Gay Bill Appears In Doubt — For Now

Jim Burroway

April 21st, 2010

Tomorrow’s edition of Uganda’s largest independent newspaper, Daily Monitor, citing unnamed sources, reports that a Cabinet committee has recommended changes to the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill “that preclude the possibility of discarding it.” But later, the same article says:

The recommendations mean that the legislation may never be passed in its current shape, if at all, and that it may be long before it is discussed with seriousness.

Which makes it difficult to discern exactly where the bill stands.

Daily Monitor does not indicate what changes were recommended to “soften” the proposed legislation.

When Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni cited international opposition and cautioned ruling party leaders in January to “go slow” on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, he announced a Cabinet committee to meet with the bill’s sponsor, MP David Bahati, to iron out some of the issues with the bill. Four months later, this may well be the same Cabinet committee preparing to making their recommendations to the full Cabinet.

The unnamed Cabinet source castigates the bill’s sponsor, MP David Bahati, for “not applying the kind of sophistication that would have anticipated the international condemnation” of the bill:

“It is far from being a law,” a source on the committee said, requesting anonymity so as to preserve his credibility. “It is a [good] principle, but the approach of the mover has stigmatised his mission.”

It is not known when, if ever, the bill will be taken up by the full Cabinet.

Meanwhile, the bill has been referred to two Parliament committees: the Presidential Affairs committee and the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee. Despite earlier promises that the bill would be among Parliament’s top priorities when it returned from its recess last February, the bill has apparently languished in both committees with little if any action. Two weeks ago, one Legal Affairs committee member declared the bill “useless” and the chairman confirmed that the bill was not a priority.

Yesterday, the Guardian observed that Ugandan officials “appear to be using stalling tactics, suggesting it will not come to a vote until 2011,” but warned that this could change depending on the political climate in next year’s presidential elections.

One factor that could lead to the bill’s revival could be whether presidential candidate Olara Otunnu of the Uganda Peoples Congress poses a serious challenge to Museveni’s bid to extend his 25-year reign for another five year term. Otunnu, whose party is on record as opposing the draconian bill, is unmarried and the subject to a widespread anti-gay whisper campaign. Otunnu himself has declared the bill “a violation of basic human rights.” Otunno’s candidacy has already drawn a steady stream of official harassment on the part of police and governmental officials against his campaign.

Another factor, of course, could be overwhelming popular sentiment. As we reported earlier, the first week of May will mark several high-profile Pentecostal rallies and marches, including one rally to be staged by American anti-gay extremist Lou Engle. That May 2 rally in Kampala, The Call Uganda, will identify “homosexuality and increased immorality” as a “social evil” to be addressed at the rally.

Ugandan LGBT people fear that these rallies may unleash another anti-gay pogrom and wave of public vigilantism similar to the one that followed a much smaller anti-gay conference put on by three American activists last year. That conference went ahead despite warnings from international human rights groups, local LGBT advocates, one lone American Evangelical, and even this humble blogger. The potential fallout from The Call Uganda is anybody’s guess but one man’s direct responsibility: Lou Engle.

Chris McCoy

April 22nd, 2010

I worry that the stalling tactics are being used to wait untill the international community “moves on” to the next big story and forgets about Uganda – and then they can push the bill thru into law unnoticed.

I hope that the same organizations (and this blog) that have denounced this bill keep the pressure on Uganda to not just shelve the bill, but to officially drop it from consideration.

Jim Burroway

April 22nd, 2010

That’s a well-founded worry, which is why this blog will not “move on,” and why we’re trying to raise the alarm about Lou Engle’s May 2 rally in Kampala.

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