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Dispatches: Not Again, Uganda

Proverb-prone President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda said in October that he was faced with a problem of a snake in a clay cooking pot. “We want to kill the snake, but we do not want to break the pot. We want to protect our children from homosexuality, but we do not want to kill our trade opportunities.” 

The president is showing no signs of protecting the pot. Once again, Uganda appears poised to further curtail the rights of its lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens.

Last week, a leaked copy of a pernicious bill – Uganda’s latest attempt to obstruct the rights of LGBT people – surfaced among activists. The draft “Prohibition of Promotion of Unnatural Sexual Offences Bill” carries on in the sad tradition of the notorious Anti-Homosexuality Act, ruled null and void on procedural grounds by the Constitutional Court on August 1 this year.

The draft bill now joins an increasingly long list of proposed and enacted legislation curtailing basic human rights, a list that already includes the 2013 Public Order Management Act, the 2014 Anti-Pornography Act, and the 2014 HIV Prevention and Control Act.

In what would appear to be an effort to define Uganda’s British colonial-era sodomy law, the new draft defines “unnatural sexual practices” as a sexual act between persons of the same sex, or with or between transsexual persons, a sexual act with an animal, and anal sex.” Uganda’s current penal code criminalizes “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” with life imprisonment. Without any detail, there is a basic accepted understanding that “against the order of nature” means same sex conduct.

The draft shows legislators remain committed to obstructing freedom of expression and association, and importantly, the advocacy and outreach efforts of NGOs and public health workers. This draft bill would effectively prevent any LGBT group from operating, and could be used against any organization – including Human Rights Watch – that supports the rights of LGBT people. The draft would make it illegal for organizations to receive funds, or to advertise their work or activities in whatever medium. It retains a clause on renting property that led to evictions and homelessness under the Anti-Homosexuality Act because landlords interpreted it to mean that it is illegal to house a LGBT person. Consent, the draft concludes, is not a defence. The criminalization of “promotion” is nothing less than an attempt to criminalize a segment of Uganda’s population and anyone who supports or expresses support for the rights of that population.

The justification that this draft bill is there to protect children is a red herring. In 2007, Uganda specifically amended the penal code to criminalize any sexual act with anyone under the age of 18 years old – boy or girl – and punishes such acts with life in prison.

Reflecting on his ill-fated assent to the Anti-Homosexuality Act, Museveni said: “We were not influenced by ‘aid’ cuts. However, when it comes to trade, we should remember that other peoples are also sovereign. They can choose whom to trade with and whom not to trade with.” If trade is the proverbial clay pot, it is clear that the new proposed bill should leave it in shards.

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