Uganda Parliament, Religious Leaders Weigh Death Penalty for LGBT People

Jim Burroway

November 2nd, 2009

As we reported last week, several Ugandan Christian leaders have spoken out on the Anti-Homosexuality Act which has been introduced in that nation\’s Parliament, but their statements have largely been in full support with the bill – with a few reservations about the proposed death penalty for “serial offenders” and those who are HIV-positive. Those comments were made during discussions in a Parliament committee.

We’ve learned more details of those committee discussions held on October 28. Participants included members of Parliament David Bahati and Benson Obua Ogwal who are co-sponsors of the bill, and Minister of Ethics and Integrity James Nsaba-Buturo.  Invited speakers included:

  • The Rev. Canon Aaron Mwesigye, provincial secretary of the Anglican Church of Uganda;
  • John Kakembo, of the Seventh Day Adventist Church;
  • Dr. Joseph Sserwadda, representing the nation\’s Pentecostal churches;
  • Prof. Peter Matoyu, a university professor representing the Metropolitan Orthodox Church of Kampala.
  • Sheikh Mohammad Ali, representing the Muslim Mufti of Uganda;

MP David Bahati, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, insisted that homosexuality was not a human right but “a bad habit.” He also repeated much of the false “science” promulgated by American anti-gay extremists, including the false charge that the life expectancy of gays are twenty-years shorter than that of non-gays. MP Bahati’s repeated most of his points in support of his bill in a column that appeared in yesterday’s Observer, in which he called the bill “a nice piece of legislation“:

Uganda is not a copycat of other countries. We can\’t do what other countries are doing—especially when such countries are doing the wrong things. The fact that the moral fabric in America and Europe has been put under siege by the supporters of this creeping evil of homosexuality should not suggest that we should follow suit.

And I think supporting the cause of this Bill will provide Uganda as a country an opportunity to provide leadership in this area of safeguarding the traditional family. I must also point out that this Bill is not about hate or discrimination. We are not involved in a hate campaign.

…But ever since we tabled this Bill, we have come under attack. People have argued that we are promoting a hate campaign against homosexuals. And these attacks are coming mostly from civil society members who claim that homosexuality is a human right.

These same groups have persistently continued to place this evil in the category of human rights. They have rallied people to resist the Bill. They argue that we are targeting homosexuals, we hate them. But some of the people behind these messages are mothers and respectable people in our country.

…On top of this are the NGOs that are hugely involved in recruiting and giving money to our young children with the intention of swaying them into this evil practice.

But Uganda will never exchange her dignity for money. While we are poor in terms of finances, we are extremely rich in dignity. And we will never accept homosexuality for the sake of appeasing other countries or as an incentive for their money.

MP Bahati reviewed what his draconian bill would do. If passed, it would:

  • Reaffirm the lifetime sentence currently provided upon conviction of homosexuality, and extends the definition from sexual activity to merely “touch[ing] another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality.”
  • Create a new category of “aggravated homosexuality” which provides for the death penalty for “repeat offenders” and for cases where the individual is HIV-positive.
  • Provides compensation for “victims” of homosexuality. This provision would encourage an accused\’s consensual partner to claim that he or she was a “victim,” not only to escape criminal penalties, but also to demand compensation from his or her partner.
  • Expand the definition of homosexuality to include “touching.” Current law requires proof of penetration. The proposed law would dramatically lower the burden of proof for penalties involving lifetime sentences or even death.
  • Criminalizes all speech and peaceful assembly for those who advocate on behalf of LGBT citizens in Uganda with fines and imprisonment of between five and seven years.
  • Criminalizes the act of obtaining a same-sex marriage abroad with lifetime imprisonment.
  • Adds a clause which forces friends or family members to report LGBT persons to police within 24-hours of learning about that individual\’s homosexuality or face fines or imprisonment of up to three years.
  • Adds an extra-territorial and extradition provisions, allowing Uganda to prosecute LGBT Ugandans living abroad.

Death Sentence Provisions Questioned
The Parliamentary committee heard from several of Uganda’s religious leaders, beginning with Rev. Canon Aaron Mwesigye, provincial secretary of the Anglican Church of Uganda. As has been widely reported, he spoke out against only one provision of the bill, the section which provides the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”. The  pro-government newspaper New Vision quoted Mwesigye this way:

“Can death as a form of punishment help one to reform? Some people are convicted of murder but after they have been killed, it\’s proved they were innocent. What would be done in such circumstances? We should emphasize life imprisonment.”

Mwesigye also questioned the wisdom of the extra-territorial provisions in the bill, saying that those provisions might not be practical. Otherwise, he was complementary of the bill overall, but suggested that some portions of the bill didn’t go far enough. For example, on the section providing compensation for “victims,” he suggested that secondary victims — spouses, parents, and children of those who claim to have been seduced — also deserve compensation.

“Predatory homosexuals”
John Kakembo, of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, also questioned the death sentence, but otherwise praised the bill. He also repeated Mwesigye\’s suggestion that the definition of victims be expanded for compensation. He justified this by calling all gay people predatory, claiming that he was targeted by foreigners when he was younger.

Themes of rampant criminality and wild predatory practices are extremely common in portrayals of LGBT people in Uganda. Prof. Peter Matoyu, who was representing the Metropolitan Orthodox Church of Kampala made some very incendiary and fanciful charges along those lines. He claimed that while a student in the U.S., a professor forced him to pretend that he and other Ugandan students were gay as part of their studies, and that they were in danger of being murdered by American gays if their ruse were discovered. This rhetoric only feeds the anti-gay frenzy that frequently grips the nation.

Government support for proposed legislation
Ethics and Integrity Minister James Nsaba-Buturo also spoke before the committee, and said that while the proposed act was highly controversial, he assured the panel that its passage would give Uganda a place of honor among civilized nations.

This is significant, as Nsaba-Buturo appears to have the full backing of President Yoweri Museveni, who, in Uganda’s paper-thin trappings of democratic functioning, is the real power in the country after having overthrown his predecessor in a civil war in 1986. In a statement released on the official web site of the Office of the President, Nsaba-Buturo has already warned Uganda’s media against “promoting homosexuality,” reminding them that a new law was being proposed to make all advocacy or positive portrayal of homosexuality tantamount to pornography and become subject to criminal penalties. This is no idle threat; Uganda’s press is not entirely free and the government has very recently shut down several broadcasters that have been critical of government policies.

“Total support” for the death penalty
While some Ugandan Christian leaders have expressed reservations about the death penalty provisions – while being perfectly happy with lifetime imprisonment for being gay, at least one prominent Uganda preacher has given the new law his total support. Martin Ssempa of Makerere Community Church was not at the parliamentary meeting, but he did send a statement to Grove City College professor Warren Throckmorton in which he offered his “total support of the bill and would be most grateful if it did pass.”

Ssempa enjoys close ties to Uganda\’s First Lady, Janet Museveni, and as been tied to US pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church. In 2005, Warren described Ssempa as “his indispensable sidekick,” but now he appears to be reeling back his support for the Ugandan megachurch pastor. In a statement released to Warren Throckmorton, Rick Warren wrote:

Martin Ssempa does not represent me, my wife Kay, Saddleback Church, nor the Global PEACE Plan strategy. In 2007, we completely severed contact with Mr. Ssempa  when we learned that his views and actions were in serious conflict with our own.

Rev. Warren also enjoys close ties with Uganda\’s First Lady and he had recently named Uganda a “Purpose Driven Nation.”

We do not know the Uganda President\’s position on this bill. While his very prominent Minister of Ethics and Integrity had taken a very personal interest in this bill almost immediately following an anti-gay conference in Kampala by three American anti-gay activists, there has been no official statement from the President\’s office. Almost all important bills are introduced by the President directly, but this proposed legislation is what’s called a “private member” bill. This has led some to suspect that President Museveni may be hedging his bets to gauge international reaction.

Click here to see BTB\’s complete coverage of recent anti-gay developments in Uganda.

Debbie Thurman

November 2nd, 2009

This provision would open an especially huge can of worms for Uganda:

“Provides compensation for “victims” of homosexuality. This provision would encourage an accused’s consensual partner to claim that he or she was a “victim,” not only to escape criminal penalties, but also to demand compensation from his or her partner.”

If they think they have problems over there now, wait until they have jilted lovers pointing fingers at each other and seeking compensation. There will be no end to the scheming. I believe this is one of the intentions of the bill — to have an implosion within the gay community.

Martin Ssempa has claimed that as many as 70 percent of Uganda’s prison inmates are incarcerated for crimes of “defilement” (sex with a minor). He plays the gay pedophile card in saying this bill is meant to “protect the boy-child.” One wonders just how effectively they are pursuing all sex-traffickers and pedophiles, especially given their attempt in 2007 at passing a new adultery law, which was deemed too sexist as it would have really slammed women while winking at men’s dalliances.

Uganda particularly has it in for gay men.

It’s all just a surreal, nightmare scenario. God help these people!


November 2nd, 2009

And with all of this horrendous vileness towards the lgbt community we still get no condemnation from the ‘saint’ they call Mandella and or any other African leaders for that matter. Its a total disgrace…

Mike Goodenow

November 2nd, 2009

I think it’s very important that your article exonerates Pastor Rick Warren. He completely severed ties with Ssempa in 2007. Warren has nothing to do with this tragic event in Uganda.


November 2nd, 2009


I don’t read that Jim has exonerated Rick Warren. All Rick Warren has done, and Jim has reported, is to claim to have severed any links to Ssempa in 2007. Notably — and you should note it — Rick Warren did not make any comment about the draconian legislation: neither that in place now, nor that which is proposed.

For all I know Rick Warren could be in complete agreement with the criminal laws, but has simply had a personal falling out with Ssempa over some other issue. His comments in Uganda in 2008 can certainly be read that way. Unfortunately Rick Warren has been his usual slippery and evasive self when talking about GLBT people to an American audience when something else was decidedly called for.

And then… there’s the unanswered question about the past two decades of undiluted anti-gay American evangelical influence in Uganda, of with Rick Warren has contributed more than his fair share.

Never good to begin with, the situation for GLBT in Uganda has become steadily more poisonous over the period; resulting in vigilante mobs, vile threats and slander from the highest level of government and now this proposed legislation. All done in the name of an angry God. (Allegedly.)

Who has been responsible for the deepening attitudes that lie at the bottom of this grief?

I’m damn sure I haven’t done a thing to cause any of it. Could anyone say the same about Rick Warren, or any of his fellow travellers?

“Nothing to do with this”… my fat foot he hasn’t.


November 2nd, 2009

The Orthodox Churches, SDA Church, Pentecostal churches and Anglican Communion have a moral obligation to speak out and not only condemn this act but also to defend the intended victims of it. If they do not they become accessories to a moral evil and fail completely in their duties. Their silence should DEFINITELY be used against them in legal or political fights over gay rights.

I would include Muslims in this as well, but frankly I’m not certain that this view in Uganda isn’t the mainstream in Islam.


November 2nd, 2009

Oh yeah: while the Catholic Church isn’t listed here it has the same moral responsibility to speak out as well.


November 2nd, 2009

John said “The Orthodox Churches, SDA Church, Pentecostal churches and Anglican Communion have a moral obligation to speak out and not only condemn this act but also to defend the intended victims of it.”

They do not have any such obligation! They’re Christian! They know nothing about morality!


November 2nd, 2009

Uganda death penalty for Homosexuality — coming soon to an America near you. But lets all hold hands light candles and sing Kumbaya and hope the fukwitted voters don’t take away our rights.

Timothy Kincaid

November 2nd, 2009


I don’t know that Nelson Mandella has much influence in Uganda or that, at 91, he is participating much in any political activism.

However, Mandella was very influential in supporting gay rights and in ensuring that the new South Africa constitution provided protections for gay people. Indeed, gay people have more equality under the laws of South Africa than most US states, which is due in part to Mandella’s support.


November 2nd, 2009

” “touch[ing] another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality.””

I wonder how their going to identify this… When they refer to act of homosexuality.. does it ONLY refer to sodomy? Or does it encompass holding hands, kissing, showing affection etc..?

“Adds an extra-territorial and extradition provisions, allowing Uganda to prosecute LGBT Ugandans living abroad.”

Due to the limitations of a visa… they would still need to return home at some point. Can they really force the return of an Ugandan from another nation or must they wait the return of the Ugandan in order to punish them?

“he assured the panel that its passage would give Uganda a place of honor among civilized nations.”

Yet not really the christian ones.

Now the question stands.. how can you change their hearts?

As long as they believe homosexuality is evil and believe all the ‘proofs’ that homosexuality is degenerated… then their sense of justice will not flail.. rather it should get stronger.

How did gay citizens rise from the severely oppressed state they lived centuries(or decades ago) in other countries to an equal or closer to equal status… no idea.

It will be harder now for LGBT Ugandans to achieve equality… not only are their brothers and sisters(their government and population) fighting for upholding morality, but they are also rather empowered to counter the threat other nations evil promulgation of gay rights poses. Will they listen? “Criminalizes all speech and peaceful assembly for those who advocate on behalf of LGBT citizens” It seems farther away now.


November 3rd, 2009

heard my father make the incontinence claim before. And i asked him if it was true.. and he answered, “yes!”.
My father loves sunday preachers and likes the news.. have no idea where he got this.
Any ideas?


November 3rd, 2009

Does anyone know what the Bahais in Uganda have said about this bill? I have read unverified accounts that individual Bahais have previously spoken out in favor of condemning homosexuals, but I have not heard if the Bahai community has made an official comment about this bill or any of the related persecution of homosexuals in Uganda.

paul j stein

November 3rd, 2009

Just another way to keep the “faithful” in check and making babies. Life is damn cheap in that country and killing the faggots is another way to hold your power. Make no mistake, they will kill you as soon as look at you, and get a pat on the back for it! I have personal experience with that attitude from now imprisoned (29 3/4 years) Ugandans.

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