Sponsor Seeks To Revive Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill
April 26th, 2011
Ugandan M.P. David Bahati is not taking no for an answer. Last month, Information Minister Kabakumba Masiko articulated the government’s position that the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill would not be voted on in Parliament. Immediately, Bahati swung into action demanding that Parliament’s Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, where the bill had been held for more than a year, schedule hearings on the bill. Since then, committee chairman Stephen Tashobya has been somewhat ambivalent about the bill, saying on the one hand that it may come up for discussion, and on the other hand pointing out that there is very little time left for the current Parliament to act before it expires next month.
Today, the Associated Press rorts that Bahati re-issued his “consession” that he would consider dropping the death penalty from the bill if it would help to move the bill forward. That’s not much of a concession; the more “lenient” punishment is lifetime imprisonment in a Ugandan prison. That’s hardly an improvement, and it’s barely scratching the surface. The bill would lower the bar for conviction, making mere “touching” for the perceived purpose of homosexual relations a criminal offense. It threatens 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. It also would broadly criminalize all advocacy of homosexuality including, conceivably, lawyers defending accused gay people in court or parliamentarians proposing changes to the law. It even threatens landlords under a “brothel” provision if they knowingly rent to gay people.
More worrying, newspapers all over the world are carrying this AP article with a misleading headline indicating that the death penalty’s being dropped is a fait accompli. Nothing could be further from the truth. The penalty has not been officially dropped. This is merely a statement of concession that Bahati is reiterating, one that he has made many times before. The bill itself remains unchanged.
The AP report also has Tashobya providing some wiggle room on whether the bill will come up for a vote:
But Stephen Tashobya, the chairman of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, said the legislation may come up for a vote before parliament’s session ends May 12.
“We shall try and see how far we can go with the bill. It may be possible. We are doing all we can. We have limited time,” he said Tuesday, before adding: “Many people have expressed concern about that provision providing for the death sentence and I’m sure when we start hearings on that bill we will hear many more concerns.”
Whether Parliament can take up these measures in the two weeks it has left remains uncertain. Over the past week, the Ugandan government has been struggling with an open rebellion on the streets of Kampala. Things are only now beginning to quieten down, but the situation remans tense. That distraction only adds to the issues that Parliament will be grappling with before it ends on May 12.
In recent weeks, the bill’s supporters have been ratcheting up pressure for a vote, pressure which includes paying enourmous sums of money by Ugandan standards to gay people to hurl false accusations and pose as “ex-gays.” Governmental sources have responded by suggesting that some provisions of the bill be shifted to other bills, where they stand a better chance of passing with little notice.