TV Report: Uganda to Shelve “Kill-The-Gays” Bill
March 25th, 2011
The chairman of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee had scheduled the Anti-Homosexuality Bill for debate in his committee, possibly as early as this week. But now, based on what Information Minister Kabakumba Masiko tells Uganda’s NTV, it appears that government has intervened to put a halt to the bill once and for all:
We had the Cabinet Subcommittee which gave us a report yesterday and we did realize that there are many things that are in the bill that are covered by other laws that are already in place. … And the law that is in offing, the Sexual Offenses Bill, will cover most of the other issues that were going to be covered.
Uganda President Yoweri Museveni directed a subcabinet committee to study the bill in January, 2010 amid growing international outcry over the proposed bill. In April, it was reported that the committee recommended that most of the bill be dropped with “useful provisions of the proposed law” incorporated into the Sexual Offenses Act. Which provisions the cabinet considered combining is not known. We currently do not have a copy of the Sexual Offenses Bill. The Bill’s sponsor, David Bahati, responded with a litany of issues which he felt were not covered:
We don’t have any prohibition on promotion of homosexuality anywhere, we don’t have any prohibition on same-sex marriage, we don’t have any prohibition in our laws on recruitment of homosexuality of our children, we don’t have any provision on counseling and caring. We want to make it very clear, we want Parliament to come up with a law that is specific and clear to address the emergent problem of homosexuality.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, if passed, would have imposed the death penalty on gays and lesbians under certain circumstances, including for “repeat offenders” — which would apply to anyone who had more than one relationship. Ugandan law already provides either 20 years or lifetime imprisonment, depending on how prosecutors chose to charge the accused. The new law would also have lowered the bar for conviction, making mere “touching” for the perceived purpose of homosexual relations a criminal offense. The law threatened teachers, doctors, friends, and family members with three years imprisonment if they didn’t report anyone they suspected of being gay to police within twenty-four hours. The law very broadly criminalized all advocacy of homosexuality including, conceivably, lawyers who defended accused gay people in court. It even threatened landlords under a “brothel” provision if they knowingly rented to gay people.
I am very confident that the Executive knows that 95% of Ugandans will not support homosexuality.
Minister Kabakumba responded:
Of course we are concerned and we don’t condone homosexuality in our country. That should be very, very, very clear. It’s in the constitution, we do not condone it, and of course our children are suffering.
Bahati called for committee to hold hearings on the bill:
Their views must be taken to committee of Parliament to be considered. They could be accepted, they cold be not accepted.
Last week, Tashobya said that the bill would be taken up for consideration by his committee, possibly as early as this week when Parliament returned for its lame duck session. Parliament returned on March 22. Parliament will expire on May 20. Our source in Kampala reports that Bahati has now gone on radio this morning saying that committee chairman Stephen Tashobya has assured him that the bill would be debated in committee.
But with the announcement coming from a cabinet member and not the committee chairman, it suggests that someone, possibly President Museveni himself via Masiko, has intervened and persuaded the Parliamentary Affairs committee to drop the bill altogether without a hearing. It should be noted that the bill’s main supporter in the cabinet, former Ethics and Integrity Minister James Nsaba Buturo, resigned last week in compliance with a court order following his loss in the ruling party’s primary elections last fall.With Buturo now out of the way, it appears that Masiko is the new point person for the government’s position on the bill. In Buturo’s parting remarks, he called on Parliament to pass the bill. (Shortly after Buturo’s departure, the offices of the Ethics and Integrity Ministry were padlocked by their landlord over failure to pay rent.)
January a year ago, Museveni spoke at an NRM meeting urging Parliament to “go slow” over the bill, pointing out that due to international outcry it is not just a domestic matter but one with worldwide ramifications, most notably in the threat it posed to foreign aid to the country. Foreign aid makes up an estimated one-third of Uganda’s budget and economy. He also called on a special subcabinet committee to examine the bill. In a cable from the U.S. Embassy in Kampala posted on Wikileaks, President Museveni “suggested the entire bill could be dropped, and twice asked the Ambassador to remind Washington that “someone in Uganda”, meaning himself, is handling the matter and knows what he is doing.” Museveni also complained about foreign pressure. “The President twice referred to a recent local political cartoon depicting him on this issue as a puppet of Secretary Clinton, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and Stephen Harper, and asked international donors to stand down to give him room to deal with the anti-homosexuality legislation in his own way.”
That subcabinet committee completed it work the following April, but since then the bill has languished in Parliament’s Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee. There it quietly stayed through the February Parliamentary and Presidential elections, and its quiet repose there appeared to keep it safely out of electoral politics. Now that the elections are over, Buturo is out of the way, and with Parliament reconvening for a short lame-duck session, it appears that Museveni’s government saw this as the best opportunity to kill the bill.