Uganda's obligations

Sat, Jan 9, 2010, 00:00

UGANDA’S Anti-Homosexuality Bill (2009), due to be debated and probably agreed by parliament within the next three weeks, prescribes death for “aggravated homosexuality”. That is understood as sexual activity by a gay man who is HIV-positive. Now, in the face of international uproar and a threat by donors to aid, President Yoweri Museveni has asked his ruling party to amend the penalty in the Bill to life in prison.

But the private Bill, which can only be described as medieval and witch-hunting, will still require those with knowledge of a gay person to report them to police within 24 hours or risk three years in jail. It would criminalise public discussion of homosexuality and could penalise someone who knowingly rents property to a homosexual. One of its staunchest supporters, James Nsaba Buturo, Uganda’s minister of state for ethics and integrity, now says that it will be amended. “The president doesn’t believe in killing gays. I also don’t believe in it ... The Bill will also promote counseling to help ‘attract errant people to acceptable sexual orientation’.” But “homosexuals can forget about human rights,” he said recently.

The Bill, even if amended, will remain utterly abhorrent. It will give Uganda the dubious distinction of signing up as a Christian country to the sort of homophobic legislative regime typical of hard-line Islamist theocratic states like Sudan, Mauritania, Iran and Saudi Arabia, which punish homosexuality with death.

The legislation talks about the “cherished culture” of Uganda and its “legal, religious, and traditional family values”, much of them imbued with a deeply conservative evangelical influence partly imported from the US. The Ugandan excess of zeal has, however, proved too much even for the US’s most ardent campaigners against gay rights. One who has distanced himself most firmly, Californian mega-evangelist Rick Warren, has called the proposals “unjust, extreme and un-Christian”.

Nor is there anything Christian about the daily experiences of Uganda’s embattled gays who report beatings, blackmail, death threats and the vicious practice of what has been described as “correctional rape”. While homosexuality is widely viewed as an immoral western import in Uganda and throughout Africa – the BBC estimates it is outlawed in 38 of the continent’s countries – such cultural prejudice and bigotry do not outweigh the country’s international human rights obligations. If Uganda does not want pariah status.