A shameful and sad day for the human race
Move Sets Stage for Showdown With Donors, Activists
KAMPALA, Uganda—Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Monday signed into law a controversial antigay bill, setting the stage for a showdown with Western donors and rights activists opposed to the legislation.
Although the bill has won praise in Uganda, especially among religious groups, human rights activists have decried the draconian measures to curb what Mr. Museveni has called “abnormal” behavior.
The president, who signed the bill at the State House just outside the capital Kampala, said the bill represented a response to unnamed Western activists who promoted gay rights in the country.
“This law was provoked by arrogant and careless Western-based groups that are fond of coming into our schools to recruit our young children,” he said in a televised speech shortly after signing the bill. “We reject the notion that somebody can be homosexual by choice.”
On first conviction of so-called “homosexual acts,” offenders face a 14-year prison sentence. Subsequent convictions of “aggravated homosexuality,” which include homosexual acts committed by an HIV position person, could bring a penalty of life in prison.
The United Nation’s agency on HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS, warned last week that the Ugandan law could compel homosexuals to shun HIV testing and treatment to evade arrest. Western donors—including the U.S., Canada and European Union—have warned that the law could jeopardize Uganda’s foreign aid, upon which the country relies for at least $2 billion every year.
Maria E. Burnett, Human Rights Watch senior researcher, told The Wall Street Journal Monday that by signing the bill into law, Mr. Museveni has dealt a “dramatic blow” to freedom of expression and association in the country. She warned that the legislation would distract police from more important tasks.
“By signing this bill, Museveni has not only let down gay Ugandans; he has also failed the very constituencies he claims to be protecting, including children,” she said.
Not all opposition has come from Western countries. South African retired Archbishop and Nobel Prize Laureate Desmond Tutu appealed for Mr. Museveni not to sign the bill, “criminalizing acts of love.”
Mr. Museveni, a Christian, said he would sign the bill earlier this month, after citing a report from Ugandan medical experts who said that homosexuality isn’t “genetic but a social behavior.”
The U.S.-based medical group, Infectious Diseases Society of America said Monday that Mr. Museveni was relying on “outdated and discredited science” to justify his decision to sign the bill.
“Current, evidence-based findings show that the law will have as devastating an impact on public health as it will on human rights” the group said in a statement.
The latest move by Uganda reinforces an already tough stance among African governments against homosexuality. A same-sex relationship is considered taboo in many African societies, and it is illegal in around two-thirds of countries on the continent.
In some countries such as Sudan, Mauritania, and southern Somalia, homosexual acts are punishable by death. Last month, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law a bill that makes homosexuality a criminal offense. The law has spurred mass arrests of homosexuals in Nigeria.
A colonial-era law in Uganda already criminalizes homosexuality. Lawmakers say the new bill will strengthen the existing one, by including new prohibitions to bar “promotion of gay rights and punish anyone who funds or sponsors homosexuality.”
An original version of the bill introduced in 2009 proposed a maximum penalty of death for homosexual acts, though this withdrawn following international criticism.
Last week, President Barack Obama said that signing the law would “complicate” the relationship the U.S. has with Uganda, but it is unclear how substantially ties might change.
The two countries are close military allies. The U.S. spends millions of dollars every year to support Ugandan troops, who are engaged in regional anti-militant operations in Somalia and the Central African Republic. The U.S. has also dispatched military advisers to help Ugandan soldiers hunt the fugitive warlord Joseph Kony, head of the Lord’s Resistance Army, who has attempted to overthrow Mr. Museveni’s government.
Mr. Museveni, facing growing domestic political pressure ahead of the 2016 elections, asked the U.S. to respect Uganda’s sovereignty in decision making for its people.
“Valued relationship cannot be sustainably maintained by one society being subservient to another society,” said the Ugandan president, in response to Mr. Obama’s concerns.
“Countries and societies should relate with each other on the basis of mutual respect and independence in decision making.”Follow enlightenedlbrl