(Kampala) The UN, the NGO Amnesty International, Washington and London on Wednesday asked Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to reject a law against homosexuality adopted the day before by Parliament, strongly criticizing it.
Uganda’s parliament voted in a turbulent session on Tuesday evening to pass a law providing for harsh penalties for people in same-sex relationships.
MEPs significantly amended the initial text which provided for up to 10 years in prison for anyone engaging in homosexual acts or claiming to be LGBTQ, in a country where homosexuality was already illegal.
The extent of the new penalties under the law was not immediately known.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, called on Mr. Museveni on Wednesday not to promulgate the text. “The vote on this discriminatory text — probably the worst in the world of its kind — is a deeply disturbing development,” he said in a statement.
“If signed into law by the President, (this law) will make lesbians, gays and bisexuals criminals in Uganda for the mere fact of existing […]. This could give carte blanche to the systematic violation of almost all their human rights,” he added.
“This ambiguous, vaguely worded law criminalizes even those who ‘promote’ homosexuality,” Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty’s director for East and Southern Africa, said in a statement.
Fox Odoi-Oywelowo, an elected member of the National Resistance Movement, President Museveni’s party, took a stand against the text. The deputy told AFP that according to the final version of the legislation, offenders risk a life sentence or even the death penalty for “aggravated” offenses.
Amnesty said Museveni must “urgently veto this appalling law”, adding that it would “institutionalise discrimination, hatred and prejudice” against the LGBTQ community.
In a tweet, the head of American diplomacy Antony Blinken also denounced the adoption of the law. “We strongly call on the government of Uganda to reconsider the implementation of this law,” said the US Secretary of State. It puts “into question the fundamental rights of all Ugandans” and “could affect the fight against AIDS”, he added.
The British Minister for Africa, Andrew Mitchell, also said he was “ deeply disappointed ” with the adoption of the project, the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s special envoy for LGBTQ rights, Nicholas Herbert, warning of the risk of see increasing “discrimination and persecution of people in Uganda”.
“As many countries, including a number on the African continent, move towards decriminalization, this is a deeply troubling step in the opposite direction,” Nicholas Herbert said on Twitter.
Debates in parliament were peppered with homophobic rhetoric, with Mr Museveni himself referring last week to homosexuals as “deviant” people.
However, the 78-year-old leader often felt that the subject was not a priority for him and that he preferred to maintain good relations with his Western donors and investors.
Uganda has strict anti-homosexuality legislation — a legacy of colonial laws — but since independence from the UK in 1962, there have been no prosecutions for consensual homosexual acts.
Intolerance of homosexuality is common in Uganda where the adoption of the text has been welcomed by some.
“We are very happy as citizens of Uganda. Culturally we do not accept… homosexuality, lesbianism, LGBTQ. We can’t,” Abdu Mukasa, a 54-year-old resident, told AFP. “ We were created by God. God created man and woman. And we cannot accept that one gender goes with the same gender,” he added.
In 2014, a Ugandan court blocked a bill, approved by MPs and signed by President Museveni, to punish same-sex relations with life in prison.
This text had caused an outcry beyond Ugandan borders, some rich countries having suspended their aid after its presentation to parliament.
Last week, the police announced the arrest of six men for “ practicing homosexuality ” in Jinja (south). Six other men were arrested on the same charge on Sunday, police said.