Plans to issue a 'more lenient' anti-gay law in Uganda

Tuesday 12 August 2014 16.49
President Museveni is calling for a law which will penalise the promotion of homosexuality
President Museveni is calling for a law which will penalise the promotion of homosexuality

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni wants to issue a watered-down version of a divisive anti-gay law, stripping out tough penalties for consenting adults, according to a ruling party politician. 

The original version of the law passed in February made homosexual acts punishable with long prison terms and alarmed Western donors, some of whom withheld aid to Uganda in protest.

Uganda's constitutional court overturned it on a technicality this month.

"We agreed to come up with a new version that doesn't hurt our Western friends but also protects Ugandans," Medard Bitekyerezo said.

Homosexuality remains taboo in many socially conservative African societies, where some religious groups have branded it a corruption brought in by Western culture.

But governments seeking to criminalise gay sex have clashed with the more liberal attitudes from the Western governments they depend on for their aid.

Donors finance about 20% of Uganda's annual budget.

Both the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party and the opposition vowed to re-introduce the law after the constitutional court ruled it had been passed without the presence of the required number of parliament members. 

Mr Bitekyerezo said Mr Museveni told an NRM meeting late last night he backed its return, in a limited form.

"He said he wants the law back in the house but now says if two consenting adults go into their room and decide to be stupid, let them be," Mr Bitekyerezo said.

"What he said he doesn't want, and which we must even increase the penalties, is recruitment of children and exploiting financially vulnerable youths."

The new law would penalise the promotion of homosexuality and the "recruitment" of children and economically vulnerable groups into gay sex, Mr Bitekyerezo said.

Legislation banning the "promotion" of homosexuality in Russia and other countries has been regularly condemned by activists.

Mr Bitekyerezo said the meeting had appointed a committee headed by the country's Vice President Kiwanuka Ssekandi to come up with a new version of the law, without saying when it might come before parliament.        

During the bill's signing in February, Mr Museveni said homosexuality was emblematic of the West's "social imperialism" in Africa.

Gay rights activists say it was actually colonial western powers who first criminalised homosexuality in many parts of the continent.

Keywords: uganda