Ugandan Cabinet “Throws Out” Anti-Homosexuality Bill, But Parliament Presses Ahead
August 22nd, 2011
Daily Monitor, Uganda’s largest independent newspaper, has a very brief report this morning saying that the Ugandan Cabinet has “dropped” the Anti-Homosexuality Bill:
Cabinet has finally thrown out the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2009 on the advice of Mr Adolf Mwesige, the ruling party lawyer. However, Ndorwa West MP David Bahati, the architect of the Bill, insists the proposed legislation is now property of Parliament and that the Executive should stop “playing hide- and- seek games” on the matter.
“We agreed that government should search the law archives and get some of the laws, enforce them rather than having another new piece of legislation,” a source said. “He [Mwesige] said the Bill is overtaken by events and that donors and other sections of the public were not comfortable.”
The decision to throw out the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was made at a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday where Mr Mwesige, according to sources, told ministers that the Bill was unnecessary since government has a number of laws in place criminalising homosexual activities.
It’s unclear what the reported action from the Cabinet would mean. In May of 2010, the Cabinet reportedly rejected the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, but the bill remained subject to debate in Parliament and had not been withdrawn.
[Update: Warren Throckmorton reports that a Parliamentary Spokesperson, Helen Kawesa, has confirmed that the "bill is in the Parliament now. It's the Parliament's property." According to Throckmorton:
Currently, budget meetings are on the agenda but a budget is slated to get a vote by next Wednesday. After that, other business, including the anti-gay bill could be considered. As of now, according to Kawesa, there is no official action scheduled for the Anti-Homosexuality Bill but she said the bill could come up at any time after the budget has been passed.
This would indicate that not only is the bill very much alive, but is being actively worked in Parliament. If so, then the bill's backers were already successful in reviving the bill without garnering any notice from the news media.]
Earlier reports of the Cabinet’s decision indicated that members recommended dismantling the bill and passing portions of it surreptitiously as amendments to other bills in the hopes of escaping worldwide attention. Many of those reported recommendations made their way into a Parliamentary report last May, barely a week before the Eight Parliament was scheduled to end. Early reports had it that the death penalty provisions had been dropped, but in an example of the kind of subterfuge the bill’s supporters would undertake to ensure its passage, it was revealed that the death penalty, in fact, was still part of the bill. Parliamentary Affairs Committee recommended that in the Clause 3 defining “aggravated homosexuality” and which specifies that “A person who commits the offence of aggravated homosexuality shall be liable on conviction to suffer death,” that the phrase “suffer death” should be replaced with “the penalty provided for aggravated defilement under Section 129 of the Penal Code Act.” Section 129 of the Penal Code Act mandates the death penalty for an unrelated offense of child molestation. Parliament ultimately failed to pass the bill due to a lack of a quorum because of controversy over another unrelated bill.
M.P. David Bahati, the bill’s sponsor, has repeatedly insisted that the bill would be brought back during the Ninth Parliament, with its status picking up where it left off at the close of previous Parliament where it was awaiting a final vote. The Ninth Parliament invoked the procedure to bring forward a bill from the prior Parliament last July when it quickly revived the controversial HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Bill, which criminalizes the transmission of HIV/AIDS with ten years imprisonment. That bill also criminalizes the transmission of AIDS from mother to child through breast milk. HIV/AIDS workers and human rights advocates say that the penalties will will discourage testing and treatment for HIV/AIDS, as lack of knowledge of one’s status will be an effective defense against charges arising from the bill. That bill is now in the HIV/AIDS Committee.
Recent reports have speculated that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill would be brought back sometime in the second half of August, while another unconfirmed report placed the timing in November. Consistent throughout however is the concern that the bill would be brought up surreptitiously. Warren Throckmorton has reported:
I have also heard today from sources I trust that ministers are quietly appealing to MPs to pass the bill via letters and emails. The relevance of this is that the movement to get the bill considered is not as public as during the previous parliament.