Worrying developments for Uganda's LGBT population

In 2009, Ugandan Member of Parliament David Bahati proposed a bill known as the Anti Homosexuality Bill. The 2009 bill proposed the death penalty for “repeat offenders”

An amended version of the AHB was passed by the Ugandan Parliament in December 2013. The death penalty clause was removed and replaced with life imprisonment. To be passed into law, it required the signature of the President, Museveni. Late in December of 2013, he wrote a letter criticising the members of parliament for passing the bill through its first reading without a quorum, while nonetheless affirming that LGBT people are ‘abnormal’. He wrote:

The question at the core of the the debate of homosexuality is: what do we do with an abnormal person? Do we kill him/her? Do we imprison him/her? Or do we contain him/her?


You cannot call an abnormality an alternative orientation…It could be that the Western societies, on account of random breeding, have generated many abnormal people.


In addition, Museveni, in his December 2013 letter (full text here) stated that there are some who become homosexual for “mercenary reasons”, recruited because of financial incentives. He stated that government programmes that promote employment may rescue youth who would otherwise be exposed to the possibility of homosexuality, amongst other temptations. While the letter signals his reluctance to sign the bill as it stands, he has indicated that the Caucus will find a “scientifically correct” position on the proposed legislation.

Scientific paper delivered to Museveni.

Now today, Feb 15, it emerges that Museveni’s scientific team have concluded that nobody is born gay, therefore, paving the way for the bill, in Museveni’s mind, to become legal. A statement from the Uganda State House indicates that the President intends to sign the bill. News reports indicated that some MPs received the news of the Scientific investigation as a valentine’s gift, a sad repetition of the unfulfilled promise of the Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament (Rebecca Kadaga) that the bill would shave been passed as a Christmas present for Ugandans in 2012.

The ‘Scientific Statement from the Ministry of Health on Homosexuality‘ upon which Museveni’s statement has been predicated is problematic. It speaks of ‘exhibitionistic’ sexual expressions – both heterosexual and same-sex. However, while it is assumed that heterosexual non-exhibitionistic sexual expressions are normative, the definition of what makes ‘homosexual exhibitionistic’ behaviour is non defined, leading to the assumption that all same sex activities between consenting adults are considered exhibitionistic, therefore deserving of imprisonment, possibly life imprisonment.

Section IV of the document explores whether homosexuality can be learnt or unlearnt, and proposes that it may be ‘learnt’ by disastrous heterosexual encounters, early exposure, increased exposure to the west and propaganda. Arguing that homosexuality can be put in the same category as ‘rape, sexual violence, gender based violence and trafficking” the paper suggests that it therefore needs to be regulated; regulation that is assumed to be held within the Nov 2013 amended version of the Anti Homosexuality Bill.

There is so much cause for concern here. The question of causation cannot be used in such a utilitarian way. While there are some scientific studies continuing as to whether genetics play a role in sexual orientation, the truth must be understood that it shouldn’t matter – criminalisation of LGBT people is criminal.

In addition, this pseudo-scientific approach to justifying imprisonment is demonstrative of a pre-decided conclusion.

Anti homosexuality bill – written by Christians, opposed by some Christians. 

This bill has been influenced by, written by, bolstered and promoted by Christians, both in Uganda and in the West. It is worthwhile, if you are interested, to take a few hours to read the history of the bill since 2009, a history which is outlined by Box Turtle Bulletin here. In July 2012, theUgandan Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox bishops had called for the bill (which at that stage had begun to flag in its efforts) to be revived. There are notable exceptions among church leaders: Canon Gideon Byamugisha and Bishop Christopher Ssenyonjo have both spoken out loudly, the Vatican lobbied against the bill, and the Archbishops of Canterbury and York issued a strongly worded letter recently, a letter that was refuted by both the Ugandan  and Kenyan Anglican Archbishops. Obviously many civicjournalistic,legislative and human rights organisations have also opposed this bill since its inception.

LGBT people are already criminalised under Ugandan Penal Law (originally passed in 1950, and updated in 2000 to provide criminalising powers to the legislature for both lesbians and gay men). People are regularly being arrested, as this recent article from Uganda’s Daily Monitor details.


The Status of LGBT people in Human Rights Legislation. 

From its foundation in 1945, the UN had not discussed LGBT rights until 2008 when a statement was presented to the General Assembly. This statement has not been officially adopted, but remains open for signature. In 2011, South Africa called for the UN HCR to draft a report on the situation of LGBT citizens. This resolution was passed.

UN report, published in 2011, states that “the criminalisation of private consensual homosexual acts violates an individual’s right to privacy and to non-discrimination and constitutes a breach of international human rights law” (§41) and notes the link between criminalisation and homophobic hate crimes, police abuse and violence (§41). The paper states unequivocally that the usage of the death penalty for non-violent acts, including sexual relations between consenting adults is a violation of human rights law (§45). In addition, commenting on the possibility of the law being considered, the document quotes the Special Rapporteur:

“The ‘mere possibility’ that it can be applied threatens the accused for years, and is a form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Its status as a law justifies persecution by vigilante groups, and invites abuse”. (§46)


What to do?

I am unsure what to suggest. I know that boycotts, human rights protests and economic aid sanctions are likely to be understood as evidence of the desire of the west to influence Uganda with a 21st century moral colonialism, and thus perhaps unlikely to be completely productive.

There are magnificent organisations within Uganda doing advocacy work, as well as journalism sites that give speedy coverage.