MP John Musila, dressed in a robe with anti-LGBTI messages, enters the Ugandan Parliament to vote on the new anti-gay law on March 21. Ronald Kabuubi (AP)
The president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, has promulgated on Monday one of the most severe anti-LGBTI laws in the world according to the United Nations, as it not only maintains life imprisonment for sexual acts between people of the same sex, but also condemns "the promotion of homosexuality" with up to 20 years in prison and "aggravated homosexuality" with the death penalty. This was confirmed by the speaker of the Ugandan Parliament, Anita Annet Among, through a statement: "We have responded to the cry of our people, we have legislated to protect the sanctity of the family (...) We have stood firm to defend our culture and the aspirations of our people," he said. Its approval has generated great concern among the LGTBI collective and a strong rejection in the West.
Homosexual relations were already a crime in Uganda punishable by up to life imprisonment, according to the norm so far in force, dating from the British colonial era. The new law, which arises in a context of resurgence of homophobia in Africa, maintains these penalties and adds the punishment of 20 years in prison for those who publicly defend homosexuality, a somewhat vague concept that has sown panic among the LGTBI community. Similarly, the "crime of aggravated homosexuality" is introduced, which includes "recidivists", who transmit HIV to others or who have intimate relations with minors or people with functional diversity, who can be punished with the death penalty.
Ugandan LGBTI activists have reacted with outrage. "We are now filing an appeal with the Constitutional Court signed by ten people, myself among them. We will fight until our last breath," said lesbian feminist Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera. For his part, Frank Mugisha, director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, warned of the virtual unanimity of parliamentary support for the law and the possible emergence of "mass arrests" and a wave of popular justice against it. "We are really very worried, this law is going to do a lot of damage to the Ugandan LGBTI community," he told France Press. Ugandan activist Clare Byarugaba said: "The president has today legalised state-sponsored homophobia and transphobia. It's a very dark and sad day."
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, said Monday he was "dismayed" by the entry into force of a law that he describes as "draconian and discriminatory, probably the worst of its kind in the world." His office clarified through Twitter that this regulation is "contrary to the Constitution and international treaties" and that it opens the door to "systematic violations of the rights of LGTBI persons." Ashwanee Budoo-Scholts, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, called it "a serious blow to freedom of expression and association." Institutions that fight against HIV say that the law jeopardizes progress against this disease and its stigma.
Denouncing "all homosexual acts"
A first draft of the law reached the Ugandan Parliament on March 21, where it was approved by a large majority. In addition to the provisions already mentioned, the proposal condemned the fact of declaring oneself homosexual and the obligation for neighbors, teachers, relatives or friends to report "any homosexual act" to the authorities. All this generated a wave of indignation in the West. Groups such as Amnesty International and governments such as the United States exerted pressure to try not to ratify it.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken himself said two days later that "the anti-homosexuality law passed by the Ugandan Parliament undermines the fundamental rights of all Ugandans and could reverse progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS" and urged President Museveni to "seriously reconsider the implementation of this legislation." John Kirby, a White House spokesman, even warned of economic sanctions if the law went into effect.
These pressures paid off initially. President Museveni returned the law to parliament, urging MPs to remove certain provisions, such as the clause referring to sexual identity or compulsory reporting, on the grounds that it could provoke "conflicts in society". The parliamentarians again approved a new bill on May 2 in which they removed these articles, but maintained the convictions for promotion and "aggravated homosexuality". Specifically, the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee of the Ugandan Lower House accepted that the intent of the law was to criminalize same-sex sexual acts, but not to punish a person based on their stated sexuality.
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