Hearings Continue In Uganda’s Parliament on Anti-Homosexuality Bill
May 9th, 2011
[Update: Paul Canning alerted me to this 30-minute audio snippet from today’s hearing. Beginning at the two-minute mark, the speaker describes how the bill is based upon false premises and is not supported by science:]
Warren Throckmorton has his ear to the ground on the rapidly developing situation in Uganda, where Parliament may be set to pass the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law. He reported that the Human Rights Commission, Sexual Minorities Uganda and the Coalition on Human Rights all testified against the bill during hearings today. The Associated Press reports that pastor Martin Ssempa testified again this morning, calling for the death penalty to be removed and replaced with seven year’s imprisonment. This is a remarkable backtracking from supporting lifetime imprisonment previously. Ssempa went on to call for the bill’s passage “because homosexuality is killing our society.”
LGBT Advocate and retired Anglican Bishop Christopher Senyonjo also testified against the bill. He warned the committee that the bill would not make gay people suddenly disappear, but would instead turn Uganda into a police state. He also warned that the bill would result in an increase in the spread of HIV/AIDS because gay Ugandans would fear seeking treatment.
The AP also reported on the bill’s future:
Stephen Tashobya, the head of the parliament committee, said it is time legislators give the bill priority. He said a report on the bill would be ready by Tuesday and could be presented to parliament by the end of the week.
“Due to public demand the committee has decided to deal with bill,” Tashobya said. “The bill has generated a lot of interest from members of the public and members of parliament and that is why we spared some time deal with before this parliament ends.”
Parliament is due to end on May 11, although Parliament itself doesn’t constitutionally expire until the 18th. It’s not clear whether there is enough time for the bill to make it to the floor before the 11th, but Frank Mugisha of Sexual Minorities Uganda said that if Parliament does take up the bill, it will be almost certainly be passed. Warren Throckmorton, who is constantly updating this thread with new information as he finds it, comments on the bill’s prognosis:
Tashobya is quoted as saying he would have the report completed by tomorrow. However, he just told me a few minutes ago that he cannot promise to complete the report by tomorrow. He did say that he would complete the report before the end of Parliament which is the 18th of May. When I asked him how the Parliament could vote on a bill in this manner, he said that the Speaker (Edward Ssekandi) makes those decisions. Theoretically, the Speaker could call Parliament into session anytime before May 18 for a vote on any left over bills.
According to Tashobya, the Company bill did not pass today, and the Procurement bill was pushed to tomorrow, thus making it even more difficult for any new bills to come to the floor before Speaker Ssekandi’s end of official business date of May 11. The AHB coming to the floor appears to hinge on the completion of the committee report by Mr. Tashobya sometime tomorrow and the Speaker’s willingness to bring it to the floor on Wednesday. If this does not happen, the Speaker would have to call the MPs together sometime during the festivities of the Presidential inauguration and the swearing in of the new Parliament on the 18th.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, if passed in its current form, would impose the death penalty for those who are HIV-positive, who is a “repeat offender,” or whose partner is deemed “disabled” regardless of whether the relationship was consensual. It would also impose a lifetime sentence for other cases. Those provisions may be modified, although that still remains uncertain.
Even with those proposed modifications, the bill would still remain a potent threat to human rights. 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.
There is an AllOut petition which is now at about 40,000 signatures with a goal of 100,000 signatures by tomorrow. This will be presented at Parliament by Bishop Senyonjo tomorrow.