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Status of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill Is Completely Up in the Air … Including, Possibly, Its Death Penalty

Jim Burroway

January 17th, 2014
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The above NTV report comes from the same media company that owns Daily Monitor, Uganda’s largest independent newspaper. Earlier this morning Kampala time, Daily Monitor reported that President Yoweri Museveni had “blocked” the Anti-Homosexuality Bill which had been passed in Parliament in December with an apparent lack of quorum. (The pro-government New Vision makes no mention of Museveni’s letter, at least not on its online edition. The Uganda Media Centre, the government’s official press office, is similarly silent this morning.) Most other major media outlets reporting on this development are citing the Daily Monitor story.

Museveni’s letter to Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga criticizing Parliament’s vote on December 20 was dated December 28 but only made public today. All of this leaves up in the air the bill’s precise status. Does Museveni’s letter represent a formal rejection of the legislation under the Constitution’s Article 91 (3) (b)? That seems to be the assumption most media outlets are making. It’s certainly what the Daily Monitor story implies, although it doesn’t say so explicitly.

But if that’s the case, why is this being made public only today? If this were a formal rejection of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, that news would have come in handy last week at a meeting of Uganda’s foreign ambassadors in Kampala, many of them posted in Western countries where the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is deeply controversial. Instead, Ugandan envoys were told by Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, according to the Daily Monitor report at that time, that “Before (the President) assenting to it, this matter (the legislation) will be taken to the Movement caucus which will advise accordingly before the Presidents signs it.” That caucus is expected to take place by the end of the month.

The other possibility is that this December 28 letter isn’t a formal rejection of the letter under the Constitution, but instead is a refusal to recognize that Parliament acted lawfully in passing the legislation without a quorum in the first place. This has been the consistent line that Prime Minister Mbabazi has repeated since the day Parliament acted. This may be the more likely possibility. But the uncertainty leaves the precise status — and more critically, the content — of the bill in doubt. After all, if Parliament acted illegally in passing the bill without a quorum, then that means that Parliament also acted illegally in holding its “Committee of the Whole House” where the proposed amendments to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill were debated and adopted. And if Parliament acted illegally in holding its Committee of the Whole House without a quorum, then that means that the death penalty has still not been formally removed from the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and it reverts back to its original state when it was first introduced in Parliament.

All of this leaves the precise status of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill completely up in the air. Hopefully we’ll have more clarity in the next few weeks when the ruling party caucus meets.

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