Anti-gay law: Will Uganda withstand global backlash?

A person holds an umbrella bearing the colors of the rainbow flag as others wave flag. FILE PHOTO/ AFP

What you need to know:

  • Whereas the MPs and proponents celebrated the passing of the Bill, messages of condemnation started pouring in from the global community, including key partners such as the UN and the US. 

The United Nations (UN) and human rights bodies have condemned the passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2023, with calls to President Museveni not to sign the Bill into law. 
Parliament on Tuesday passed the Bill, introducing tough penalties, including death for aggravated homosexuality, as well as imprisonment of up to 20 years for acts of homosexuality, promoting homosexuality, child grooming and promotion of homosexuality. 

Parliament Speaker Anita Among, who presided over the sitting, said they would do whatever it takes to preserve the cultural values of the country. 
While the legislators and proponents celebrated the passing of the Bill, messages of condemnation started pouring in from the global community, including key partners such as the UN and the United States, terming the law as discriminatory and regressive. 
In a statement, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Volker Turk, asked Mr Museveni to abstain from assenting to the Bill. 

“The passing of this discriminatory Bill - probably among the worst of its kind in the world –- is a deeply troubling development,” he 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,” he said. 
Similar sentiments were echoed by the US Secretary of State, Mr Anthony Blinken.

“The Anti-Homosexuality Act passed by the Ugandan Parliament yesterday would undermine fundamental human rights of all Ugandans and could reverse gains in the fight against HIV/Aids. We urge the Ugandan government to strongly reconsider the implementation of this legislation,” Mr Blinken tweeted. 
According to the US Department of State, key in the US foreign policy is to pursue an end to violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics, and “to lead by the power of our example in the cause of advancing the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the world.”     

Mr Anthony Kujawa, the spokesperson of the US Embassy Kampala, said the US has “significant concerns” about the law, adding “it would impinge upon the human rights of Ugandan citizens, jeopardise progress in the fight against HIV/Aids, deter tourism and investment in Uganda, and damage Uganda’s international reputation.”
Amnesty International, a global movement that campaigns to end human rights abuse, said the Bill “amounts to a grave assault on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people, and is contemptuous of the Ugandan Constitution.” 

“This ambiguous, vaguely-worded law even criminalizes those who ‘promote’ homosexuality or ‘attempt to commit the offence of homosexuality’. In reality, this deeply repressive legislation will institutionalise discrimination, hatred, and prejudice against LGBT people, including those who are perceived to be LGBT and block the legitimate work of civil society, public health professionals, and community leaders,” it notes.

However, government has maintained they will not be swayed.  President Museveni, in an address to Parliament on March 16, said he would be guided by scientific evidence to establish if homosexuality is natural or not. At the same address, he lashed out at Western powers for imposing homosexuality on Africans.

These reactions mirror events of the aftermath of the passing of a similar law in 2014, when donors, including the US government, imposed sanctions on Uganda for its “counter to universal human rights” laws. Individuals, including now State Minister for Trade David Bahati, who sponsored the Bill, were banned from entering the US. The sanctions also affected funding to health and security exercises that are heavily donor-reliant. 

Mr Kujawa did not rule out the possibility of sanctions, including a cut in donor funding. America is one of Uganda’s biggest donors, investing heavily in health and security
“We are looking into the potential impact of the Anti-Homosexuality Act on foreign assistance, specifically nearly $500m (Shs1.9 trillion) the US provides in annual health assistance.  Our PEPFAR funding, which is aiding Uganda to end HIV/Aids as a public health threat by 2030, may be severely impacted if we were not able to provide resources to all Ugandans regardless of sexual orientation or identity,” he said.

He added: “US assistance to Uganda seeks to ensure all who need access to medical care receive those services, including the LGBTQI+ community. This is not only respectful of human rights but keeps all Ugandans safe.  Key populations, including LGBTQI+ individuals, must not be neglected or stigmatised, or prevented from receiving health services.  Ensuring equity in service delivery is key to the health of all Ugandans.”
Proponents of the law have appealed to Mr Museveni not to bow to pressure from Western countries.  

“I hope it will not be a precursor to another round of wasting taxpayers’ money and resources. I hope the head of state, speaking in tongues the previous day, will be able this time to speak right on this. We took note of his speech sounding scientific, but with no conclusion,” Mr Mathias Mpuuga, the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, said.

“The position of the church remains. We are happy that Parliament also stood against homosexuality, and hope that the President will affirm that,” Mr Ivan Naijuka, the spokesperson of the Diocese of Kampala, said. 
Other countries in Africa where homosexuality is banned include Ghana, Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Zambia, among others.