The Silencing of the Lambs

Clause By Clause With Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Jim Burroway

February 22nd, 2012

The proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2009, as published in the official Uganda Gazette on September 25, 2009.

The proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2009. (Click to download, PDF: 847KB/16 pages)

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.

The memorandum which serves as the preamble to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill makes clear that one of the aims of the bill is to prohibit “the promotion or recognition of such sexual relations in public institutions and other places through or with the support of any Government entity in Uganda or any non governmental organization inside or outside the country.” Clause 13 is where the bill tries to achieve that aim:

13. Promotion of homosexuality.
(1) A person who –

(a) participates in production, procuring, marketing, broadcasting, disseminating, publishing pornographic materials for purposes of promoting homosexuality;

(b) funds or sponsors homosexuality or other related activities;

(c) offers premises and other related fixed or movable assets for purposes of homosexuality or promoting homosexuality;

(d) uses electronic devices which include internet, films, mobile phones for purposes of homosexuality or promoting homosexuality and;

(e) who acts as an accomplice or attempts to promote or in any way abets homosexuality and related practices;

commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a line of five thousand currency points or imprisonment of a minimum of five years and a maximum of seven years or both fine and imprisonment.

(2) Where the offender is a corporate body or a business or an association or a non-governmental organization, on conviction its certificate of registration shall be cancelled and the director or proprietor or promoter shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for seven years.

This bill would thoroughly outlaw any and all advocacy on gay rights in Uganda. Subclause 1.a speaks of “pornographic materials,” implying a limited scope of the bill. But in reality, even the most innocuous depictions or descriptions of LGBT people have been condemned as “pornographic.” The remaining clauses have no similar pretense of restraint. Sublcause 1.b prohibits all funding for LGBT advocacy, 1.c prohibits any property or assets from being used for LGBT advocacy, and 1.d prohibits all electronic media, including the Internet, Emails, SMS text messages, YouTube videos and anything else you can think of that can be used to argue for LGBT rights. This clause bans everything: blog posts, Facebook status updates, even a 140-character Tweet can land the Tweeter in prison for up to seven years.

And in case the bill’s authors forgot anything, subclause 1.e is there as a catch-all for any other possible avenues for advocating on behalf of gay people. This covers any kind of advocacy including, potentially, legal defense for anyone charged under this bill, and even any future parliamentary debate over whether sections of this bill should be amended or repealed. In fact, this clause is redundant with Clause 7 which prohibits “Aiding and Abetting” homosexuality (which the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee recommended deleting in favor of this clause). Which means that all of the dangers that Clause 7 poses to lawyers, health care workers, counsellors, pastors — even beauticians (is making a gay person attractive “aiding and abetting” homosexuality?) — apply to this clause as well.

Subclause 1 provides a sentence of five to seven years imprisonment for an individual, and a fine of 100 million shillings, or about US$42,500 in a country where the per capita annual income is about US$500. Businesses, non-profits and NGO’s aren’t exempt either; the law shuts them down and imprisons their directors or owners for seven years.

In a human rights forum discussing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill held at Makarere University in 2009, law professor Sylvia Tamale describes just some of the dangers Clause 13 poses:

Clause 13 which attempts to outlaw the “Promotion of Homosexuality” is very problematic as it introduces widespread censorship and undermines fundamental freedoms such as the rights to free speech, expression, association and assembly.  Under this provision an unscrupulous person aspiring to unseat a member of parliament can easily send the incumbent MP unsolicited material via e-mail or text messaging, implicating the latter as one “promoting homosexuality.”  After being framed in that way, it will be very difficult for the victim to shake free of the “stigma.”  Secondly, by criminalizing the “funding and sponsoring of homosexuality and related activities,” the bill deals a major blow to Uganda’s public health policies and efforts.  Take for example, the Most At Risk Populations’ Initiative (MARPI) introduced by the Ministry of Health in 2008, which targets specific populations in a comprehensive manner to curb the HIV/AIDS scourge.   If this bill becomes law, health practitioners as well as those that have put money into this exemplary initiative will automatically be liable to imprisonment for seven years!  The clause further undermines civil society activities by threatening the fundamental rights of NGOs and the use of intimidating tactics to shackle their directors and managers.

In addition to the likelihood that Clause 13 could be abused for criminal or political purposes, the provisions in Clause 13 violate Uganda’s constitution (PDF: 460KB/192 pages), which under Chapter 4, Article 29, (Pages 41-42) include:

29. Protection of freedom of conscience, expression, movement, religion, assembly and association.
(1) Every person shall have the right to—

(a) freedom of speech and expression which shall include freedom of the press and other media;

(b) freedom of thought, conscience and belief which shall include academic freedom in institutions of learning;

(c) freedom to practise any religion and manifest such practice which shall include the right to belong to and participate in the practices of any religious body or organisation in a manner consistent with this Constitution;

(d) freedom to assemble and to demonstrate together with others peacefully and unarmed and to petition; and

(e) freedom of association which shall include the freedom to form and join associations or unions, including trade unions and political and other civic organisations.

The adoption of this clause would make a mockery of Uganda’s constitution. Nevertheless, the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee recommended retaining Clause 13 in its entirety in the closing days of the Eighth Parliament, and it remained as part of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill when it was reintroduced into the Ninth Parliament.

In the film The Silence of the Lambs, the evil Hannibal Lecter asked detective Clarice Starling what her most painful memory was. She replied with a story about living on a relative’s farm near a slaughterhouse where she tried unsuccessfully to rescue one of the lambs. She was haunted by the screaming the lambs made as they were being slaughtered. Lecter later asks Starling, “Tell me, Clarice, have the lambs stopped screaming?” This clause, as part of a bill designed to legislate LGBT people out of existence, will ensure that no one is allowed to hear them scream.

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


February 22nd, 2012

More excellent work and hard analysis being done here and, it seems, no where else. Without you folks doing this, I’m not sure that this would be known, let alone accessible, to any of us here in the U.S., where so much media is self-centered and international matters occupy little if any column space.

This hopefully provides everyone with enough information to cogently discuss this, and to refute the lies and distortions of the bill’s proponents.


February 24th, 2012

I’ve read the whole series, Jim. Thank you.

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