Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill Remains A Threat Even If Parliament Session Ends Tomorrow

Jim Burroway

December 13th, 2012

Frank Mugisha, Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda was on hand for a press conference call earlier this afternoon sponsored by the Center for Constitutional Rights. During the phone call, Mugusha brought us up to date on the current status of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill:

“It is important to note that Parliament is most likely to close tomorrow, the 14th of December, or the 20th of December. The Speaker has indicated that she might ask for an extension to the 20th. If Parliament closes tomorrow, that means this session will have closed before the antigay bill is debated. And then we’ll wait until January when Parliament reconvenes.”

It’s important to note Frank’s last sentence. Once Parliament goes on Christmas break, then it will simply pick up business from where it left off when it reconvenes in January. This is not the same as what happened in May 2011, when the Eight Parliament expired at the end of its five year term. This current Parliament, the Ninth, will remain in effect until 2016.

I wanted to get this out there because it appears that some confusion is circulating about what it will mean procedurally when Parliament goes on break. For example, The Advocate, whose reporter Sunnivie Brydum was also part of the call, is reporting that the bill may “die a procedural death as early as tomorrow.”  But moving from one Parliamentary Session to the next does not interrupt the House’s business, nor does it cause any bills to die. When the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was reintroduced into Parliament in February, it occurred during a meeting of the First Session. Since then, Parliament has gone on a couple of breaks, and it officially started its Second Session last summer with the Anti-Homosexuality Bill remaining in play. So as Frank points out, if Parliament does not take up the Anti-Homosexuality Bill before going on its Christmas break, then we will then have to wait until Parliament reconvenes, probably in January, to see what happens then.

As Frank noted, it is unclear whether Parliament will actually break for Christmas tomorrow as originally announced, or whether Speaker Kadaga or her Deputy will call for Parliament to continue meeting next week. Kadaga is currently in Italy where she is leading a Uganda delegation for — get this! — the World Parliamentary Conference on Human Rights. Frank expressed doubt that the Uganda Parliament would take up the bill before going on break, noting that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was at the top of Parliament’s list of “Business to follow” beginning November 27 before dropping to number two a week ago and then to number six yesterday.

But what happens if Parliament does decide to move the Anti-Homosexuality Bill up on its agenda, either before its break or after it returns? Frank told the press conference:

“If this legislation comes before Parliament for debate, there is a lot of support from members of Parliament. So definitely, it will be passed, and if this legislation is passed, it is sent over to the President of Uganda to sign. There has been a rumor that the President of Uganda may not sign this legislation, and in that case, I think the President might sign this legislation.

“However, he might ask for this legislation to be reviewed and watered down. Also, if he refused to sign this legislation and it has been rejected, our Parliament can still pass the legislation if a certain percentage of Parliament supports the legislation.”

According to  Uganda’s Constitution (PDF: 460KB/192 pages, see pages 68-69), the pathway looks like this:

91. Exercise of legislative powers.

(1) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the power of Parliament to make laws shall be exercised through bills passed by Parliament and assented to by the President.

(2) A bill passed by Parliament shall, as soon as possible, be presented to the President for assent.

(3) The President shall, within thirty days after a bill is presented to him or her—

(a) assent to the bill;

(b) return the bill to Parliament with a request that the bill or a particular provision of it be reconsidered by Parliament; or

(c) notify the Speaker in writing that he or she refuses to assent to the bill.

(4) Where a bill has been returned to Parliament under clause (3)(b) of this article, Parliament shall reconsider it and if passed again, it shall be presented for a second time to the President for assent.

(5) Where the President returns the same bill twice under clause (3)(b) of this article and the bill is passed for the third time, with the support of at least two-thirds of all members of Parliament, the Speaker shall cause a copy of the bill to be laid before Parliament, and the bill shall become law without the assent of the President.

(6) Where the President—

(a) refuses to assent to a bill under clause (3)(c) of this article, Parliament may reconsider the bill and if passed, the bill shall be presented to the President for assent;

(b) refuses to assent to a bill which has been reconsidered and passed under paragraph (a) or clause (4) of this article, the Speaker shall, upon the refusal, if the bill was so passed with the support of at least two-thirds of all members of Parliament, cause a copy of the bill to be laid before Parliament, and the bill shall become law without the assent of the President.

(7) Where the President fails to do any of the acts specified in clause (3) of this article within the period prescribed in that clause, the President shall be taken to have assented to the bill and at the expiration of that period, the Speaker shall cause a copy of the bill to be laid before Parliament and the bill shall become law without the assent of the President.

It appears that the President can reject a bill he doesn’t like, but in the end he is ultimatenly subject to an over-ride by a two-thirds vote of Parliament.

If some form of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill does become law, Frank confirmed that SMUG plans to challenge the law in court for numerous violations of the Uganda Constitution.

Sunnivie

December 14th, 2012

Thanks for the correction and clarification, Jim. Please find my updated story and correction, attributed to you, right here: http://www.advocate.com/news/world-news/2012/12/14/ugandan-parliament-breaks-holiday-without-vote-kill-gays-bill

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