Published on BBCnews, by Joshua Mmali, 22 December 2009.
An attempt to punish “aggravated homosexuality” in Uganda with the death penalty has caused outrage across the world – and revealed a huge divide in Ugandan society.
“Even my friends who are not gay are now scared because they think if this bill is passed, they’ll be targeted,” says Julian Pepe, an openly gay Ugandan who campaigns for homosexual rights.
“I feel scared. I feel I am in danger. I’ve tried to put a few security measures in place and I am constantly watching over my shoulder.”
Gay people in Uganda can already be jailed for 14 years for engaging in homosexual acts. The new bill wants to raise that to life imprisonment, even though no-one has ever been convicted of homosexual acts in Uganda …
… Spiritual values:
So far there has been relative silence on the proposals from Mr Bahati’s boss, President Yoweri Museveni.
He has previously condemned homosexuals but now he is under pressure from international donors, who contribute a large portion of Uganda’s budget.
Among those most strongly opposing the bill is Sweden, which has said it would withdraw the $50m (£31m) of aid it gives to Uganda each year if the measures become law.
At the Commonwealth meeting in November several Western leaders are reported to have urged President Museveni to consider the dangers the proposals could pose to Uganda’s rights record.
But his Ethics and Integrity Minister James Nsaba Buturo has stated repeatedly that Uganda will never embrace homosexuality or even acknowledge it as a human rights issue.
And the bill seems to have other backers in high places too – the country’s religious leaders have given their support to the proposals.
All members of the Inter-religious Council of Uganda (IRC) have recommended that the government should cut diplomatic ties with countries that want Uganda to accept homosexuality.
The council’s Joshua Kitakule says Western countries “should respect our spiritual values – they shouldn’t interfere”.
But anger about the bill has not been limited to Western nations.
Seventeen rights groups – local and international – issued a statement condemning the bill as soon as it was put before parliament.
“This bill is a blow to democracy in Uganda,” says David Kato of lobby group Sexual Minorities Uganda.
“It goes against the inclusive spirit necessary for our economic as well as political development. Its spirit is profoundly undemocratic and un-African.”
Kate Sheill, Amnesty International’s expert on sexual rights, says some of the bill’s provisions are illegal.
“They criminalise a sector of society for being who they are, when what the government should be doing instead is protecting them from discrimination and abuse,” she says.
‘Foreign behaviour’ … (full long text).