24 Feb 2014

Ugandan anti-gay law risks western wrath

Gay people in Uganda face life prison sentences after the country’s president signed a new anti-homosexual law.

Yoweri Museveni ignored the protests of western governments and human rights organisations to sign the bill imposing harsher sentences on people convicted of having gay sex.

Museveni also overlooked Washington’s warning that the law would complicate links between the US and Uganda. But he was applauded by domestic officials at a ceremony at his State House in the lakeside town of Entebbe outside the capital.

The move comes a little more than a week after US President Barack Obama warned that the law would be “more than an affront and a danger to the gay community in Uganda. It will be a step backward for all Ugandans and reflect poorly on Uganda’s commitment to protecting the human rights of its people”.

Obama added: “It also will mark a serious setback for all those around the world who share a commitment to freedom, justice and equal rights. As we have conveyed to President Museveni, enacting this legislation will complicate our valued relationship with Uganda.”

And the Reuters press agency quoted a senior Obama administration official as saying the United States could go further by reviewing its relations with Uganda if the law was enacted. Washington is one of Uganda’s largest donors, sending more than $400m (£241m) a year in recent years.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was “deeply saddened and disappointed” at the development. In a statement, he said: “There can be no doubt that this Bill will increase persecution and discrimination of Ugandans, as well as damage Uganda’s reputation internationally.”


But Museveni was defiant, saying: “There’s now an attempt at social imperialism, to impose social values. We’re sorry to see that you (the West) live the way you live but we keep quiet about it,” he said.

The new bill punishes anyone convicted of having gay sex with jail terms up to life, according to a draft of the legislation. It also makes it a crime to fail to report someone for breaking the new law, again according to drafts.

Amnesty International condemned the bill as a “dangerous and draconian piece of legislation”. Gemma Houldey, the group’s Uganda Researcher said: “This deeply offensive piece of legislation is an affront to the human rights of all Ugandans.

“This legislation will institutionalise hatred and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in Uganda. Its passage into law signals a very grave episode in the nation’s history.”

‘Gloomy day’

The organisation claimed that more than 25,000 people in the UK have written to the Ugandan President to veto the anti-gay bill.

According to Reuters, gay and lesbian organisations in Africa fear the ripple effect from the anti-gay bill could spread beyond Uganda to other parts of a continent where conservative societies tend to view homosexuality as unnatural.

“It’s a gloomy day not just for the gay community in Uganda but for all Ugandans who care about human rights because this law will affect everybody,” said Julian Peppe Onziema, a gay rights campaigner in the east African nation.

The agency reported that Museveni’s signature will please many voters opposed to homosexuality in the staunchly conservative country ahead of presidential elections in 2016, but risks alienating western aid donors.

While African leaders broadly court western donors with promises to tackle human rights abuses, many have taken a hardline stance against homosexuality, describing it as “un-African” behaviour, often winning popular support, it said.

Last week, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh said “LGBT can only stand for leprosy, gonorrhoea, bacteria and tuberculosis”. He added: “We will fight these vermins called homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes, if not more aggressively.”