Anyone Can “Aid And Abet”
Clause By Clause With Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill
February 16th, 2012
Uganda’s proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill has been re-introduced into Parliament and is currently in the hands of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee. As the Committee considers what to do with the bill, there has been considerable confusion over what would happen if the bill were to become law. Most of the attention has focused on the bill’s death penalty provision, but even if it were removed, the bill’s other seventeen clauses would still represent a barbaric regression for Uganda’s human rights record. In this series, we will examine the original text of bill’s eighteen clauses to uncover exactly what it includes in its present form.
As we have seen already in just the first six clauses of the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill, it would be easy for anyone, gay or straight, to be caught up on charges which can bring either a lifetime prison sentence or the death penalty. Those clauses ostensibly target gay people, but the (possibly) unintended consequences of the sloppily-worded bill would also make heterosexuals vulnerable, particularly in a country where corruption is endemic. While those clauses supposedly target gay people, other clauses of the bill would target anyone, gay or straight, who would come to their aid. Like these clauses:
7. Aiding and abating (sic) homosexuality
A person who aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage in acts of homosexuality commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for seven years.
14. Failure to disclose the offence.
A person in authority, who being aware of the commission of any offence under this Act, omits to report the offence to the relevant authorities within twenty-four hours of having first had that knowledge, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding two hundred and fifty currency points or imprisonment not exceeding three years.
The simple wording of these two clauses provides a breathtaking potential for all sorts of abuse. A straightforward reading of these clauses would leave doctors, lawyers, and other professionals vulnerable for providing services to gay people. That appears to be the precise aim of this bill, according to the British medical journal The Lancet, which reported in December of 2009 of a talk that M.P. David Bahati, the bill’s sponsor, gave before a cheering audience at Makerere University in Kampala (subscription required):
Before ceding the podium, Bahati had one last point to make. “This is not a Ugandan thing”, he said, his chest swelling with indignation. “Homosexuals are using foreign aid organisations to promote this. If an organisation is found to be promoting homosexuality, then their licence should be revoked.”
Shoulder to shoulder with Bahati’s supporters a half dozen or so Ugandans listened quietly. Several were doctors who had spent much of their careers toiling against a disease that has taken the lives of more than a million Ugandans. Their faces were stoic as they contemplated the implications of Bahati’s bill for the fight against HIV/AIDS not just among gay men but also among the wives and children of men who also have sex with men. They considered the long, lean years that had been spent quietly setting up networks to disburse information on HIV/AIDS to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex Ugandans.
“As a doctor, the law infuriates me”, said one general practitioner, who is much sought after by sexual minorities for his willingness to treat them, and who asked that his name not be used for fear that he would be arrested for working with sexual minorities. “We are only now getting to a point where people understand there is a problem. This law is going to erase all of that.”
It will erase all that for two reasons. Doctors who are found providing accurate safe-sex information to people who they know are gay can be held liable for “aiding and abetting” homosexuality. And gay people, understanding that Clause 14 would require doctors to report known gay people to police, would be driven underground. This is critical in the fight against AIDS. As The Lancet’s Zoe Alsop reported, in much of Africa, where AIDS is predominantly a heterosexual disease, many people, including doctors, believe that it’s impossible for gay people to become infected with HIV. This is a very different understanding than in the west.
Doctors aren’t the only professionals whose normal lines of work would make them susceptible to these two clauses. Counsellors and mental health professionals would also be susceptible, as would Lawyers who provide legal assistance or advice to gays and lesbians. Even pastors, whether they be pro-gay, anti-gay or neutral, could also find themselves held liable under these clauses.
But the dangers that these two clauses pose go way beyond the professions. Ordinary people who come in contact with LGBT people — whether they be friends, parents, siblings, co-workers, employers or neighbors — through ordinary kindnesses, accommodations, mutual aid and support, can be seen as “aiding and abetting” homosexuality. And they, too, could face imprisonment if they fail to report their gay friends, sons or daughters, brothers or sisters, co-workers, employees, or neighbors to police within twenty-four hours of finding out about that person’s sexuality.
The Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, which reviewed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill during the closing days of the Eighth Parliament, recommended that Clause 7 against “aiding and abetting homosexuality” be deleted because, the committee said, it was covered by Clause 13 prohibiting the “promotion of homosexuality.” (We will examine that clause later.) As for Clause 14 requiring everyone to report gay people to police within twenty-four hours, the committee also recommended its deletion, saying “The offence will create absurdities and the provision will be too hard to implement.” The Eighth Parliament ended before the Committee’s recommendations could be accepted in a floor vote. The original bill, which was reintroduced into the Ninth Parliament, is back in the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee for further consideration. And with it, these two clauses are still being considered as well.
(Because Clause 14 is so breathtaking in its scope, I will discuss it further in a later installment.)
Clause By Clause With Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill:
Clauses 1 and 2: Anybody Can Be Gay
Clause 3: Anyone Can Be “Liable To Suffer Death”
Clause 4: Anyone Can “Attempt to Commit Homosexuality”
Clauses 5 and 6: Anyone Can Be A Victim (And Get Out Of Jail Free If You Act Fast)
Clauses 7 and 14: Anyone Can “Aid And Abet”
Clauses 8 to 10: A Handy Menu For “Victims” To Choose From
Clauses 11, 14, 16 and 17: Nowhere To Run, Nowhere To Hide
Clause 12: Till Life Imprisonment Do You Part
Clause 13: The Silencing of the Lambs
Clause 14: The Requirement Isn’t Only To Report Gay People To Police. It’s To Report Everyone.
Clauses 15 and 19: The Establishment Clauses For The Ugandan Inquisition