Anti-gay Act: Is the West manifesting hypocrisy?

President Museveni signs into law the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in 2014. Debate has ensued online and across Uganda after President Museveni signed into law the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023. PHOTO/file

What you need to know:

The Police Force say no cases of violence against LGBTQ+ has been reported since the introduction of the law.

An animated debate has ensued online and across Uganda after President Museveni signed into law the popular Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023, despite spirited opposition from some of Uganda’s development partners, mainly from the West.

The debate has partly re-focused attention on the perceived hypocrisy of countries in the West, mainly America, who are leading condemnation of the law which enjoys the unyielding backing of religious leaders, politicians and widespread public opinion in Uganda.

Mr Museveni assented to the law on Friday, May 26, resisting intense pressure from the West to reconsider the legislation resoundingly passed by Parliament on March 21. 

The law criminalises same sex relations, prescribing tough penalties like the death penalty, life imprisonment and millions of shillings in fines for those convicted of specified offences. 

Opinion has been divided over the expected fall-out, including; donor threats of aid cuts, travel bans for officials and economic sanctions in retaliation for a law deemed by some in the West to be a “tragic violation of universal human rights”.

But the claims that it will lead to discrimination against, and denial of medical services to, the LGBTQI+ community, have been challenged and disputed. 

State minister for Foreign Affairs, Henry Okello Oryem described threats of sanctions against Uganda as “school playground bully tactics,” adding that such threats are “unjustified”.

His reaction has since drawn parallels with how the US continues to hobnob with countries like the oil-rich Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, whose government enforces one of the strictest anti-gay regimes in the world.  

Saudi Arabia operates an uncodified criminal code based on Islamic Sharia law where same-sex marriage is not permitted, same-sex sexual activity is criminalised with punishments ranging from public floggings to death.

The 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices issued by the US Department of State reported the same “significant human rights issues” for both Uganda and Saudi Arabia. 

These included “crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and existence of laws criminalising consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, albeit not fully enforced”.

Other alleged violations cited were unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearances; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government agencies and serious problems with the independence of the Judiciary. 

But in spite of these views, American President Joe Biden still visited Saudi Arabia that same year, ignoring universal condemnation of the brutal assassination of journalist and US resident, Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018. 

It is generally believed that Khashoggi was murdered on the orders of the Saudi leadership for his critical reporting about the regime’s human rights record.

In January, Human Rights Watch, said the US’s continued close economic and military ties with Saudi Arabia was a shift away from the country’s human rights policy. 

Accused of gross human rights violations, some similar to those cited in Uganda, the US has not taken any action against the kingdom, exposing the double standards in its increasingly tenuous assumed role as global policeman, critics say.  

In a May 29 statement, Mr Biden called for the repeal of the anti-gay law, warning that failing which could lead to a review of the US’s President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) and other forms of assistance and investments in Uganda. 

Uganda’s eligibility for preferential trade access under America’s African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) would also come under review. 

Mr Biden asserted that: “Since the Anti-Homosexuality Act was introduced, reports of violence and discrimination targeting Ugandans who are or are perceived to be LGBTQI+ are on the rise. Innocent Ugandans now fear going to hospitals, clinics, or other establishments to receive life-saving medical care lest they be targeted by hateful reprisals. Some have been evicted from their homes or fired from their jobs”.

These claims have been dismissed by government officials as untrue. 

Police spokesperson Fred Enanga yesterday said no cases of violence against LGBTQ+ have been reported since the introduction of the law.

The Ministry of Health also denied claims of discrimination in medical care. 

“That (denying gay people access to health services) is not true. We have not registered any incident or complaint,” Mr Emmanuel Ainebyoona, the spokesperson at the ministry, said yesterday. 

Another top official in the ministry, who preferred to speak on condition of anonymity, said no one is asked about their sexual orientation when accessing medical care. 

Shortly after Mr Biden’s statement, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken said America will now act.  

“I have also directed the Department… to consider deploying existing visa restrictions tools against Ugandan officials and other individuals for abuse of universal human rights, including the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons,” he said.

“Uganda’s failure to safeguard the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons is part of a broader degradation of human rights protections that puts Ugandan citizens at risk and damages the country’s reputation as a destination for investment, development, tourism, and refugees,” he said.

Mr Blinken revealed that new travel guidelines are to be issued for Americans doing business in Uganda.

Without giving details, Mr Blinken renewed the US’s commitment to supporting the LGBTQ community in Uganda.

“The Department of State will develop mechanisms to support the rights of LGBTQI+ individuals in Uganda and to promote accountability for Ugandan officials and other individuals responsible for, or complicit in, abusing their human rights,” he said.

Already, Speaker of Parliament Anita Annet Among has had her US visa revoked.