In Africa, where more than half of the continent’s nations ban homosexuality, Uganda passed a sweeping new anti-gay legislation Tuesday. President Museveni has signaled that he will sign a bill that passed through Uganda’s parliament, which allows the death sentence for some same-sex relationships. Specifically, the bill allows death sentences for HIV-positive people engaging in repeated homosexual intercourse and life imprisonment for same-sex relations. The bill also includes prison terms of up to 20 years for anyone identifying as gay, lesbian, transgender, or nonbinary and criminalizes actions such as touching another person “with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality.” Although the country has not carried out the death penalty since 2005, this bill could introduce a new era of harsh punishment and execution in Uganda. If passed, this bill will go further than any other antigay laws in Africa.
By Nicholas Bariyo; March 21, 2023
KAMPALA, Uganda—Uganda’s parliament on Tuesday passed sweeping new antigay legislation that allows death sentences for HIV-positive people engaging in repeated sexual intercourse with someone of the same gender and life imprisonment for same-sex relations.
The bill, which now goes to President Yoweri Museveni for his signature, also foresees prison terms of up to 20 years for anyone identifying as gay, lesbian, transgender or nonbinary and criminalizes actions such as touching another person “with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality.”
Mr. Museveni has already signaled that he will sign the bill into law. That will make Uganda one of the countries with the strictest antigay legislation in Africa. Homosexuality is illegal in more than half of the continent’s 54 nations.
Lawmakers significantly increased the penalties proposed by the bill from when it was introduced on March 9. The initial bill didn’t include death or life sentences.
An earlier, 2014 antigay law prompted several of Uganda’s Western donors, including the U.S., to freeze aid payments, before it was struck down by the country’s top court. Uganda currently receives around $2 billion in international aid every year to support health services, the reconstruction of conflict-hit areas and a large community of refugees from neighboring countries.
The new legislation passed on Tuesday allows a maximum death sentence for what it calls “aggravated homosexuality,” acts that include same-sex intercourse with a minor or an HIV-positive person convicted for the second time for intercourse with someone of the same gender.
Ugandan law currently allows the death penalty for capital offenses including murder or robbery, but the country hasn’t executed anyone since 2005.
“We want to shape the future of our children by protecting them from homosexuality,” Mutasingwa Kagyenyi, a parliamentarian for Mr. Museveni’s National Resistance Movement who co-wrote the bill with opposition lawmakers, told a packed chamber on Tuesday. “Sexual relations are between a man and woman. Those are our cherished values and culture, and we shall protect them jealously.”
Existing, colonial-era law in Uganda already criminalizes homosexuality, but no one has been convicted of consensual same-sex relations since the country gained independence from Britain in 1962. Still, many members of Uganda’s LGBTQ community live in secrecy because of stigma and antigay violence, including by police during raids on private homes.
Gay activists are routinely arrested and prohibited from carrying out activities such as workshops and conferences. In August, Uganda’s National Bureau of Non Governmental Organizations, a government agency, banned dozens of rights groups, including several defending gay rights, claiming that they hadn’t registered properly.
The Ugandan bill goes further than antigay laws in other African countries. It specifically criminalizes anyone who “holds out as a lesbian, gay, transgender, a queer, or any other sexual or gender identity that is contrary to the binary categories of male and female.”
Human Rights Watch warned last week that after the 2014 law was passed, members of Uganda’s LGBTQ faced reduced access to health services, including HIV prevention. Many were evicted by landlords or fired from jobs on the basis of their perceived sexual orientation.
“The rights at stake include the rights to freedom of expression and association, liberty, privacy, equality, and freedom from discrimination,” the group said. “The bill also discriminates against people with HIV, and effectively criminalizes living with HIV.”
Uganda has one of the largest HIV/Aids epidemics in Africa, which at least 1.4 million people living with HIV.
Before Tuesday’s vote, the speaker of parliament, Anita Among, paused proceedings to conduct a roll call and ensure that enough lawmakers were present. The 2014 law was struck down after Uganda’s constitutional court ruled that parliament had failed to reach a quorum of at least one-third of the country’s 529 lawmakers voting on the bill.
“We don’t want to repeat past mistakes and get in trouble with courts,” Ms. Among told cheering lawmakers. “We are doing this openly, and we want to know where everyone falls.”
Lawmakers repeatedly heckled a fellow parliamentarian, Fox Odoi-Oywelowo, who attempted to speak against the legislation on Tuesday.
Mr. Museveni, a conservative Christian who has been in power since 1986, has lashed out at Western donors, accusing them of attempting to impose their cultures on Africans.
“Western countries should stop wasting the time of humanity by trying to impose their practices on other people,” he said in a national address last week. “Homosexuals are deviants.”
Write to Nicholas Bariyo at email@example.com
Photo: ABUBAKER LUBOA/REUTERS