Ugandan government backs anti-gay legislation

By Barney Jopson
Saturday, December 19, 2009

KAMPALA -- The Ugandan government is backing an anti-homosexuality bill that would introduce some of the world's toughest punishments for gays, with a minimum life sentence for anyone convicted of having gay sex and a mandatory death penalty if the person is HIV-positive.

Human rights activists and HIV/AIDS specialists in Uganda, along with President Yoweri Museveni's foreign allies, have voiced outrage about the bill, now pending in parliament.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called it "a very serious potential violation of human rights." Britain and Canada have expressed strong concerns, and Sweden has threatened to cut off aid to Uganda.

The bill would also introduce a three-year prison sentence for anyone who was aware of homosexual activity and failed to report it to the authorities within 24 hours. Its proponents said the proposed law reflected the will of Uganda's people. In this conservative, predominantly Christian country, many people consider homosexuality an immoral habit that can be "cured."

James Nsaba Buturo, minister of state for ethics and integrity, said: "What we are doing is what the country wants. I see a clash of cultures here and the need for those who are not us to accept our culture."

He added: "It's abhorrent that homosexuality should be recognized as a way of life. We understand that in your country it's normal. But we don't do that. We don't even talk about it."

But Ladislaus Kiiza Rwakafuuzi, a human rights lawyer, said the bill was "born out of bigotry, paranoia, homophobia and overzealous Christians."

Opposition leaders fear that the measure could be used to discredit political opponents.

"The crimes that are being created may be for the purpose of political persecution, because even if you are convicted or not, the intention is to show you as deviant," said Kizza Besigye, the leader of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change.

Besigye ran against Museveni in the 2006 election. His campaign was dogged by charges of rape and treason that he said were politically motivated. Of the 54 days of the campaign, Besigye had to spend 27 in court or jail.

The bill is sponsored by a first-term lawmaker but has the backing of many ministers. Besigye said the issue was being used to divert attention from "the real urgent issues -- human rights abuses, rampant corruption."

-- Financial Times

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