Peter Tatchell: Ugandan leader pulls back on ‘Kill the Gays’ bill?

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Amid fears that Uganda’s notorious ‘Kill the Gays’ Anti-Homosexuality Bill will soon be revived in parliament, the country’s Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, has appeared to distance himself from aspects of the proposed legislation. He has implied that the government may not support the bill in its present form. This may be the reason it was not passed, as expected, in the run-up to Christmas.

Amama Mbabazi said:

“It [homosexuality] is unlawful already. So to the extent that it is unlawful, and the attempt in this bill to repeat what is already unlawful, is not something we’ll support, supporting what is already in the bill. Why? Why won’t we support it? Because it’s already covered.

“But there are certain aspects which may be new, like promotion of homosexuality, things like that. Those are things, when we come to debate…We set up a committee which has made a report, we’ll go through this,” he said.

WATCH this Ugandan TV broadcast of Mbabazi’s speech:

The Prime Minister’s words, which have been unreported by most western media, indicate that the government of Uganda might not back the harsher aspects of the bill but may agree to a crackdown on the advocacy of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) human rights. This may not be as bad as the death penalty but it is still a grave infringement of freedom of expression and a violation of the Ugandan constitution and international human rights law.

The Ugandan government’s determination quash support for LGBT human rights is evidenced by the recent arrest of two LGBT youth workers in Kampala.

What is particularly disturbing is that these arrests have happened before the Anti-Homosexuality Bill has become law. Under current Ugandan legislation, there is no ban on advocating LGBT equality or providing welfare support to LGBT people.

Caution and scepticism are therefore advisable regarding the apparently less aggressively anti-gay stance of the Prime Minister. It might be a government ploy to diffuse protests, placate western governments and lull LGBT Ugandans into a false sense of security.

Judging by the current homophobic fervour gripping the country and parliament, there is likely to be a majority of MPs in favour of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill if it is put to a vote. In this eventuality, the only hope for LGBT Ugandans is that President Yoweri Museveni will veto the bill. Whether he will use his veto is uncertain.

Meanwhile, last month Pope Benedict received and blessed the Uganda MP and Speaker of the Ugandan parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, who is a strident supporter of the ‘Kill the Gays’ legislation.

The public statement by Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi follows worldwide protests against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, including an Avaaz petition that has, to date, gathered over 1 million signatures.

There is also an All Out petition signed, so far, by more than 240,000 people.

Campaigners are urging the public to sign both these petitions and the Amnesty International letter to the Ugandan Prime Minister and Opposition leader, urging them to reject the bill.

On Human Rights Day, LGBT campaign groups, HIV charities, trade unions, humanists and Ugandan exiles and refugees joined forces outside the Ugandan High Commission in London to protest against the bill.

The protest was organised by the UK Consortium on AIDS and International Development, with the support of the Kaleidoscope Trust, the Peter Tatchell Foundation and Ugandan LGBT activists. Participants held placards with the words: “Kill the Bill, not the Gays! Equality!”, “Museveni. Drop the Bill” and “LGBTI friends in Uganda: We stand with you.”

The demonstration called on Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and his parliamentarians to reject the bill and stop persecuting LGBT people. A letter of protest was delivered to the High Commission.

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill is probably the world’s most harsh and comprehensively homophobic law – in some respects even more severe than the extreme anti-gay laws of countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran. As well as the death penalty for repeat homosexual offenders, it criminalises many other aspects of gay life and campaigning. The bill also requires the public to inform on LGBT people, with the penalty of imprisonment if they fail to do so. It is a snooper’s and blackmailer’s charter.

The anti-gay bill is one aspect of a much wider attack on civil society by the Ugandan regime. Symptomatic of the country’s drift to authoritarianism, it is opposed by liberal and progressive Ugandans and by the many Ugandan ngos that are part of the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law.

“If this bill became law it would be catastrophic for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Uganda and a huge blow for human rights the world over. To persecute, imprison or kill a person because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is abhorrent and a self-evident denial of their basic human rights. We are calling on President Museveni to recognise the profound injustice of this bill and the untold damage it will do both to the individuals it targets so wickedly but also to all the people of Uganda,” said Lance Price, Director of the London-based Kaleidoscope Trust.

“The persecution of the LGBT community in Uganda is an assault on the human rights of all Ugandans and is having a catastrophic impact on that nation’s health. The gains made in the response to HIV and AIDS for example, are now being reversed, with a rise in HIV incidence reported in 2011. We therefore call upon President Museveni to act with urgency to ensure this bill is permanently removed from the Ugandan parliament,” said Ben Simms, Director of UK Consortium on AIDS and International Development.

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.