UN, Amnesty join calls for Museveni to reject Uganda's anti-gay legislation

By Michael Fitzpatrick - RFI
Uganda Reuters/Edward Echwalu
Reuters/Edward Echwalu

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni faced calls on Wednesday from the United Nations and rights groups to reject an "appalling" anti-gay bill passed by parliament. Ugandan lawmakers on Tuesday approved the bill outlining harsh penalties for anyone who engages in same-sex activity.

Homosexuality was already illegal in the conservative East African nation and it was not immediately clear what new penalties had been agreed.

Only one deputy spoke against the legislation in the 557-seat parliament. He is Fox Odoi-Oywelowo, a member of Museveni's National Resistance Movement party and chairman of the government's human rights commission.

Homosexuality was criminalised in Uganda under colonial-era laws but since independence from Britain in 1962 there has never been a conviction for consensual same-sex activity.

In 2014, Ugandan lawmakers passed a bill that called for life in prison for people caught having gay sex.

A court later struck down that law on a technicality. This week's legislation allows for the death penalty for "aggravated" offences.

Appeals to the president

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, on Wednesday urged Museveni not to sign the bill into law.

"The passing of this discriminatory bill, probably among the worst of its kind in the world, is a deeply troubling development," Turk said in a statement.

"If signed into law by the president, it will render lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Uganda criminals simply for existing, for being who they are. It could provide carte blanche for the systematic violation of nearly all of their human rights and serve to incite people against each other."

Rights group Amnesty International also urged Museveni to reject the "appalling" legislation, describing it as a "grave assault" on LGBTQ people.

"This ambiguous, vaguely worded law even criminalises those who 'promote' homosexuality," said Amnesty International's east and southern Africa director, Tigere Chagutah.

HIV dangers

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken joined calls for the Kampala government to reconsider the legislation, saying on Twitter it would "undermine fundamental human rights of all Ugandans and could reverse gains in the fight against HIV/AIDS".

Britain's Africa minister Andrew Mitchell said he was "deeply disappointed" with the passage of the bill, while Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's special envoy on LGBTQ rights, Nicholas Herbert, warned it risked increasing "discrimination and persecution of people across Uganda".

"While many countries, including a number on the African continent, are moving towards decriminalisation this is a deeply troubling step in the opposite direction," Herbert said on Twitter.

Gay sex is allowed or has been decriminalised in Angola, Botswana, Cape Verde, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Côte d'Ivoire, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mali, Rwanda, and the Seychelles.