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Cabinet committee rejects Bahati Bill

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By Rodney Muhumuza

Posted  Saturday, May 8   2010 at  00:00
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Kampala

A committee of Cabinet has made recommendations that could end Ndorwa West MP David Bahati’s proposal to have a separate law punishing homosexuality in Uganda. The recommendations, which Saturday Monitor has seen, come close to dismissing Mr Bahati’s draft legislation.

The committee, put together to advise the government after Mr Bahati’s draft legislation left Uganda condemned by sections of the international community, looked deep into the language, tone and relevance of the draft legislation, dissecting every clause to determine its usefulness.

It was not clear who wrote the draft legislation, the committee’s report says, noting that the document had “technical defects in form and content”. The result left the draft legislation almost bare, as nearly all of the clauses were found either redundant, repetitive of existing laws, or even useless. In fact, the committee found that only “Clause 13” of the draft legislation, about the promotion of homosexuality, had some merit.

“This appears to be the core of the (draft legislation) and should be upheld due to the fact that there was massive recruitment to entice people into homosexuality going on, especially among the youth,” the report says. Seven ministers were originally named to the committee, but only three, as well as a representative of the Attorney General, attended the meeting that produced these recommendations.

Dr Nsaba Buturo, the junior ethics minister, who has spoken fiercely against homosexuality, never attended this meeting. He has since complained to Local Government Minister Adolf Mwesigye, who chaired the committee, that the report did not reflect his views.

In response, Mr Mwesigye has accused Dr Buturo of being absent without reason, according to documents obtained by Saturday Monitor. The review of Mr Bahati’s draft legislation, called the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009, was started after President Museveni told members of the ruling National Resistance Movement that anti-gay efforts at home were disrupting Uganda’s foreign policy. Mr Museveni’s comments came in the wake of growing concern in some international circles that the draft legislation was draconian. At the time, Mr Museveni said he had received a lengthy phone call from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the matter. US President Barack Obama reportedly said the proposed law was “odious”, while Sweden threatened to cut aid to Uganda if the law was introduced.

Mr Bahati denied being in a hate campaign, but his critics said he lacked evidence to back claims that foreign gays were clandestinely recruiting young boys in Uganda. Ironically, while the committee accepted this as fact, they still found the tenets of his draft law weak. The offence of aggravated homosexuality, for example, needs to be “harmonised with the existing penalties in the existing laws,” the report says.

In his draft law, Mr Bahati proposed a new felony called aggravated homosexuality, the phrase he used to describe homosexual acts involving minors or the disabled, as well as in sex acts between homosexuals who are HIV-positive. He also proposed life imprisonment for consenting homosexuals. The Penal Code Act already criminalises homosexuality.

Needs review
“The Anti-Homosexuality Bill should be reviewed since some provisions of the Constitution were not followed in the process of drafting and that, therefore, it was illegally before Parliament,” the report says, adding that “some sections of the Penal Code Act could be amended to include some good provisions” of the draft law. This kind of amendment, the committee’s report says, is the preferable option.

Mr Bahati was not immediately available for comment. The draft law is currently before Parliament’s Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs. Kajara MP Stephen Tashobya, who chairs the committee, has not said when he is likely to start discussion on it.

It was hoped, at least according to Dr Buturo, that the Cabinet committee would make certain amendments to the draft law. As it turned out, the committee critiqued Mr Bahati’s work so deeply that no amendments were proposed. Mr Mwesigye said on Thursday that he had no comment to make. Cabinet is yet to discuss the committee’s recommendations.