Diplomatic moves needed to halt Uganda anti-gay Bill
OPINION:Passage of the ‘Kill-the-Gays’ Bill will lead to mass arrests, imprisonment, and killing with impunity, writes KATHERINE ZAPPONE
I visited Kampala in April to attend an inter-parliamentary union conference, as one of many hundreds of public representatives. While there I spoke with a dead man.
Or he is likely to be soon if the current Anti-Homosexuality Bill is passed by the Ugandan parliament. The Bill is known as the “Kill the Gays” Bill and has been on the books since 2009. The speaker of parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, has described it as a “Christmas gift” to Ugandans for this year, as it is due to be voted on imminently.
Julian (not his real name) is a gay man, a lawyer and an advocate for human rights as they apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The risks he operates under are immense, entirely akin to those of a leading Ugandan LGBT activist, David Kato, who was murdered in January 2011.
Julian and I met at the conference hotel. He told me he was being watched by state security and I realised that I was being watched, too. He told me how his phone was tapped, and I shuddered at the thought of our phone conversations prior to meeting. For a moment I felt the fear, a feeling of utter exposure I will never forget.
However, I was leaving Uganda three days later, but he, of course, was not. He told me that when the Bill is passed there will be a “stampede of arrests” of LGBT people throughout the land. They will be incarcerated and may be killed with impunity. In a population of more than 30 million, there are at least half a million LGBT Ugandans and they are all at risk.
The Bill has some outrageous terms that build on the existing Penal Code 120 allowing for the punishment of homosexuality with 14 years’ imprisonment (the code itself is a remnant of British rule in Uganda).
The new Bill explicitly frames homosexuality as a threat to traditional society and family, and describes it as an offence, not an innate feature of a person. It seeks to impose lengthy imprisonment (life) on anyone found guilty. Under article 14, “a person who aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage in acts of homosexuality commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for seven years”; does this include an LGBT person’s family members?
NGO staff affected
Among its provisions, under article 13(1) and (2), the Bill targets anyone who “promotes” homosexuality in any way with imprisonment up to seven years. This would apply, for example, to staff of an NGO such as Amnesty International or Trócaire should they assist an LGBT person who might be HIV-positive or who is being discriminated against on account of their sexual orientation.
Further, this will also apply to Ugandans who are living abroad, including those fleeing persecution on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. One wonders if the UN High Commissioner for Refugees staff, or Irish Embassy staff who offer protection to human rights defenders who are LGBT, would be subject to this law.