Death penalty for love

2009-12-18 14:08

European governments and human and gay-rights activists around Africa and the world have condemned the Ugandan government’s move to criminalise homosexuality. Some see the draft legislation as a licence to commit targeted killings. NDINDA LEYLAH reports from Kampala. 

IHEAR European homosexuals are recruiting in Africa, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni told journalists in Kampala.

“We used to have very few homosexuals traditionally. They were not persecuted but were not encouraged either because it was clear that is not how God arranged things to be,” he said.

“You should discourage your colleagues involved in homosexuality because God was not foolish to change the way he arranged Mister and Missus.

“But now you have to say Mister and Mister? What is that now?”

Often the justification for the criminalisation of homosexuality comes from some churches.

Pastor Joseph Serwadda of Victory Christian Centre says: “This is against the law of this country. It’s against the law of God, the law of nature and we don’t want these people to practise it legally in this country. So we have called upon government not to legalise their existence.”

It was in churches that the campaign for punitive legislation against homosexuality started some time ago so it was no surprise that the bulk of religious leaders threw their weight ­behind this bill.

With the rest of Africa and the world watching, tempers have hit their highest peak in Uganda following the tabling of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill on October 14.

The bill, tabled by David Bahati, a member of parliament for Ndorwa County, makes provision for the death penalty in cases of “aggravated homosexuality”. This includes:

Committing homosexuality with a person under the age of 18;

A homosexual act by an offender living with HIV;

?If the offender is a parent or guardian of the person against whom the offence is committed;

If the victim of the offence is a person with a disability; or

If the offender applies, administers or uses any drug or substance with the intent to stupefy or overpower him or her in order to subject any person to “have unlawful carnal connection with any person of the same sex”; or

Repeated offences.

It also goes further to prohibit the ratification of any international treaties conventions, protocols, agreements and declarations which are contrary or inconsistent with the provisions of this act and prohibit the licensing of organisations which promote homosexuality.

“This bill, therefore, seeks to protect the children and youth of Uganda who are made vulnerable to sexual abuse and deviation as a result of cultural changes, uncensored information technologies, parentless child developmental settings and increasing attempts by homosexuals to raise children in homosexual relationships through adoption, foster care or otherwise,’’ Bahati says.

The bill makes further provision for a seven-year prison sentence for a person who attempts to engage in homosexuality, and any person who is seen as aiding or procures another to engage in acts of homosexuality is taken to have committed an offence and is liable on conviction to seven years imprisonment.

The same sentence applies to any person who keeps a house, room or any place of any kind for purposes of homosexuality.
Parents too could face a fine of up to the equivalent of $2?800 (about R21?000) or face three years imprisonment if they do not report to the authorities that their own child is involved in such activity.

The media is not spared either. The proposed law criminalises any form of promotion of homosexuality. Any person who participates in the production, procuring, marketing, broadcasting, disseminating, publishing, sponsoring or other related activities commits an offence and is liable to between five and seven years imprisonment.

In cases where the offender is a corporate body, a business, an association or a non-governmental organisation, it will, on conviction, have its registration cancelled and the director, proprietor or promoter will be liable to seven years in jail.
It is these measures that have made homosexuals, human rights activists and other stakeholders from the developed world join hands to oppose the bill.

Political dissension in Uganda is not something that is normally proclaimed from the hills around Kampala, but resistance is growing and is fast spreading around the world.

Already, protests have become frequent occurrences at Ugandan embassies around the world.

This past week, human and gay rights activist made their presence felt at the Ugandan High Commission in Trafalgar Square in central London.

But in Kampala itself the heat is rising. Frank Mugisha, a gay activist working for Sexual Minorities in Uganda, says they will appeal to the Constitutional Court if the bill is passed because it infringes on basic human rights.

Official international reaction to Uganda’s intended crackdown on gay sex is also becoming louder.

Donor nations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) say they will withdraw funds they have been giving to the country if this bill is passed.

Sweden’s development assistant minister, Gunilla Carlsson, was quoted on Swedish radio saying: “I am doubly disappointed, partly because Uganda is a country with which we have had long-term relationships and where I thought and hoped we had started to share common values and understanding.

“The law is wretched, but it’s also offensive to see how Ugandans choose to look at how we see things, and the kind of reception we get when we bring up these issues.”

Reacting to Sweden’s threat, Ethics and Integrity minister Nsaba Buturo says: “Our values are more important than funds.
What are we talking about here? We are talking about a decision that Uganda is making and somebody somewhere is saying, ‘look here, you are not independent. I am giving you my money you must listen to what I am telling you’.

“That is a very interesting position. Do you want to tell me they care more about Ugandans than the Ugandan government?

That is a slave trade mentality.”

Twenty two civil society organisations from across Uganda have formed the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law to fight the bill.

The coalition says in calling for different treatment according to a person’s sexual orientation, the bill effectively dehumanises all those with non-heterosexual identities and orientations as well as those in solidarity with them. The bill, they say, flies in the face of the universal declaration of human rights.

Refugee Law Project, an NGO, issued a statement saying “the bill amounts to a direct invasion of our homes, and will promote blackmail, false accusations and outright intimidation of certain members of the population.”

Sebagalla Wokulira, a human rights activist working with the Human Rights Network for Journalists, and who is against the bill asks: “Have we already forgotten the sex police of apartheid South Africa, who smashed their way into people’s bedrooms in an attempt to prevent inter-racial sex? Everybody has a right to live a dignified life.” ­– Media24 Africa Desk

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