Uganda’s Inter-Religious Council Calls On Government to Revisit Anti-Homosexuality Act
March 14th, 2014
While the rest is outraged over Uganda’s passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act which imposes lifetime imprisonment for LGBT people and lengthy prison sentences for their supporters, the controversy inside Uganda is being augmented over a recently passed Anti-Pornography Act, which, according to reports (caveat: I haven’t seen the text of the Act itself), allegedly bans women from wearing miniskirts. This has led to a number of mob assaults on women throughout the country who are seen wearing clothing that others perceive to be in violation of the law. In many of these cases, the women have been forcibly stripped of their clothing in public.
This is just part of the background behind a letter from the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda that appeared in yesterday’s Daily Monitor, Uganda’s largest independent newspaper. The letter from the Council’s General Secretary calls on the government to revisit the Anti-Pornography Act somewhat in passing while arguing for major changes to the Anti-Homosexuality Act.
The Inter-religious Council of Uganda would like to comment on the homosexuality and pornography debate particularly the anti-homosexuality and anti-pornography laws.
Having studied the two laws in detail, we have come to the conclusion that the laws actually seek to protect the moral fibre of our society by stopping recruitment and promotion of homosexual acts, and indecent behaviour.
In our earlier statements on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, we demonstrated availability of evidence to prove that recruitment into and promotion of homosexuality was indeed taking place in some of our schools and society as a whole, and this was targeting mainly young people.
However, we discovered that a number of clauses in the laws could be subject of abuse. For example: Section 2 of the Anti-Homosexuality Act is too broad as it talks about incriminating someone on the basis of “touching a person of the same sex with the motive of having sex with them”. The interpretation of “touch” is subjective, and may imply that anyone can be accused of homosexuality and fail to defend himself.
Section 13 of the same Act stipulates that it is an offence for “any person to use electronic devices (internet, films and mobile phones) for purposes of abetting or promoting homosexuality. The problem here is that if a person/media house writes an article trying to show homosexuality as ‘natural’ then he/she commits an offence earning a stiff penalty to either the individual or the media house.
In light of the above, we propose the following:
Parliament revisits certain provisions in the Act, especially those relating to punishment of offenders. Our view, which is informed by pastoral considerations and our earlier position in which we advised government to drop certain provisions in the then Bill, is that the sentences prescribed for homosexual acts must be proportional to the gravity of such acts.
Government stops the media from publishing names of persons it purports to be homosexuals, or promoting homosexuality in Uganda. Politicians and sections of religious leaders also stop using inflammatory language in the debate on homosexuality. Government also revisits the Anti-Pornography law in light of recent attacks of women.
Government provides clear frameworks for implementation of both laws.
Government dialogues with the donor community on the looming suspension of aid to our country.
We condemn any unlawful acts of mob justice against perceived offenders, and appeal to you to embrace such persons with love and compassion as we search together answers to the issues at hand.
The Inter-Religious Council is a coalition of Ugandan Roman Catholic, Anglican, Muslim, Christian Orthodox and Seventh-Day Adventist faith leaders. It’s unclear how much influence the Council wields in government or in society however. When the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was first proposed in Parliament in 2009, the Inter-Religious Council debated the bill and many of its members gave it their full backing, although many questioned the death penalty provision in the original bill. But by the following spring, the Inter-Religious Council softened its support for the bill.
Norway, Demark, the Netherlands, which collectively had provided $27 million in aid to Uganda, announced that they are cutting aid to the Ugandan government. Sweden announced that they were cutting just a little over $1 million in direct government-to-goverment aid, but was continuing to provide aid to non-govermental programs. Two weeks ago, the World Bank said it was delaying a $90 million loan to Uganda’s health service. And yesterday, unconfirmed reports emerged that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was delaying an unspecified portion of an estimated $2.3 million grant to Uganda’s Ministry of Health.
The interruption in foreign aid appears to have gotten the Council’s attention. While much of the suspension has been focused on direct aid to the Ugandan Government, it’s almost certain that many of the faith-based charities in Uganda are also beginning to feel the pinch.