Britain and Canada have joined the international chorus of disapproval of Uganda’s proposed anti-homosexual law. The bill, sponsored by a secretive right-wing American Christian fundamentalist group, would give Uganda the most draconian anti-gay legislation in the world on the specious grounds that "same sex attraction is not an innate and immutable characteristic". Gay sex is already illegal in Uganda but under the proposed law, a person convicted of homosexual acts is liable to life imprisonment, and if HIV positive the penalty is execution.
Britain and Canada’s prime ministers have told Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni the bill needs to be withdrawn. Gordon Brown and Stephen Harper told Museveni the proposal was unacceptable during a private breakfast meeting at the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit in Trinidad & Tobago last week. Sweden also threatened to cut aid if the bill is passed.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 is going through Uganda’s Parliament after receiving its first reading last month. The draft was introduced into parliament on 14 October. According to Clause 2, a person who is convicted of gay sex is liable to life imprisonment. There is also an “aggravated homosexuality” component which means if they are also HIV positive, the penalty is death. It was introduced by Ugandan MP David Bahati, a low ranking member of the ruling party. Bahati said the legislation promotes family values. "Homosexuality is not part of the human rights we believe in," he said. Many top government officials support the bill.
President Museveni is among them and has long claimed homosexuality is a ‘disease” imported from the West. In 1998 he said “When I was in America, sometime ago, I saw a rally of 300,000 homosexuals. If you had a rally of 20 homosexuals here, I would disperse it.” Last month he urged Ugandan youth to abhor “divergent sexual orientation” and stand firm against European homosexuals who were on “a recruitment drive”. Museveni claimed Uganda had very few homosexuals. “They were not persecuted but were not encouraged either because it was clear that is not how God arranged things to be."
God is now arranging things differently in Uganda. The bill contains provisions to forbid the "promotion of homosexuality" including publishing information or providing funds, premises for activities, or other resources. Conviction could result in seven years in prison. The Bill also proposes a three-year prison sentence for anyone who is aware of evidence of homosexuality and fails to report it to the police within 24 hours. Ugandan parliamentary Speaker, Edward Sekandi, said it was necessary “to do whatever we can to stop” homosexual liaisons in Uganda.
The legislation was immediately condemned by human rights groups. US-based Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International joined a group of 17 local and international groups saying the bill would violate human rights and should be withdrawn immediately. Amnesty said the bill would criminalise the work of organisations working for the defense and promotion of human rights in Uganda. It would also stymie effective HIV/AIDS prevention efforts.
Writing in The Ugandan Independent, blogger Anne Mugisha said Museveni was behind the bill. Mugisha said the bill was designed to distract attention from economic failings. She said his links with the US far right ideology became evident when he favoured the Bush administration approach on HIV AIDS with its emphasis on abstinence and faithfulness rather than condoms. Mugisha’s position is supported by NowPublic which says David Bahati is a member of a secretive fundamentalist Christian organisation called The Family. They quote writer Jeff Sharlet who said Bahati received millions of dollars in funding through the organisation’s African outreach programs. Sharlet also said The Family has cultivated a "deep relationship" with Museveni.
Sharlet is the author of the book “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power” and he recently named Museveni and Bahati as members of the group. The shadowy group is led by Douglas Coe in Arlington, Virginia and Museveni has visited the group’s compound. Sharlet said one of The Family’s central ideas was that Jesus Christ’s message was not about love, mercy, justice or forgiveness. Rather, it was about power. "Jesus didn’t come to take sides, he came to take over". The group's agenda includes fighting homosexuality and abortion, promoting free-market economics and dictatorship, an idea they called “totalitarianism for Christ”. Yoweri Museveni is taking this totalitarianism to new levels in Uganda.