On 21 March, members of the Ugandan Parliament voted for stricter punishment for people who identify as homosexuals. Before now, identifying as gay was punishable by imprisonment in the country but now, according to the voted bill, a death penalty can be invoked for cases involving “aggravated homosexuality”.
The bill describes aggravated homosexuality as sex acts committed by persons living with HIV; without consent; and against children or people with mental or physical disabilities.
"A person who commits the offence of homosexuality in any of the circumstances specified in subsection (2) commits the offence of aggravated homosexuality and is liable, on conviction, to suffer death," the new law stipulates.
It also prescribed jail terms for owners of houses occupied by LGBTQ+ persons. "A person who keeps a house, room, set of rooms or place of any kind for purposes of homosexuality commits an offence and is liable, on conviction, to imprisonment for seven years."
Asuman Basalirwa, the lawmaker who sponsored the bill, said it was aimed at protecting the church culture as well as the legal, religious and traditional family values of Ugandans.
“The objective of the bill was to establish a comprehensive and enhanced legislation to protect traditional family values, our diverse culture, our faiths, by prohibiting any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex and the promotion or recognition of sexual relations between persons of the same sex,” Basalirwa defended on Tuesday.
The bill now goes to President Yoweri Museveni for assent. Many believe he is very likely to approve of the law considering a previous comment describing homosexuals as “deviants”.
Human rights groups and international organisations have urged the president to discountenance the bill and not assent to it.
Ugandan gay rights activist Frank Mugisha said that the law, if approved by the president, could lead to mass arrests of LGBTQ+ people and mob violence against them.
“The last time the legislation was around, there were cases of suicide. This law is worse than the one that was here before because it has a death penalty and many people would be worried; many people would be scared,” he told Reuters. He also stated that the new law will be challenged in local and international courts.
UNAIDS East and Southern Africa Director, Anne Githuku-Shongwe, has urged the government to hold back on enacting the law. "If enacted, this law will undermine Uganda’s efforts to end AIDS, by violating fundamental human rights including the right to health and the right to life," she said.
The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, voiced a similar concern, urging the Ugandan government to strongly reconsider implementing the legislation.
Africa Legal notes that only 22 of the 54 African states have legalised homosexuality. In some countries it is punishable by imprisonment, while it is punishable by death in at least four.
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