30 November 2009

Uganda: Govt Hits Back Over Gay Criticism

Kampala — The government yesterday responded strongly to international criticism over the proposed anti-gay law, saying the process would continue uninterrupted.

Speaker Edward Sekandi told Daily Monitor that it was necessary "to do whatever we can to stop" homosexual liaisons in Uganda. "We don't support that practice," Mr Sekandi said yesterday.

But international pressure was mounting on Uganda to rethink a law that would make this country one of the most dangerous places for gay people.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean nation that is hosting the 2009 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown reportedly raised the issue with President Museveni. And the Canadian government, which is conservative, reportedly described the proposed law as "reprehensible, vile and hateful".

"At the Commonwealth summit, we'll convey Canada's position that if that law is in fact passed, Canada would consider it unacceptable and a gross infringement of human rights in Uganda," said Peter Kent, Canada's minister of state for foreign affairs, according to a recent report in The Canadian Press.

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill (2009), now before the House's Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, proposes life imprisonment for acts of homosexuality and introduces a serious crime called "aggravated homosexuality".

According to the proposed law, offenders must face death if they have sex with a minor or a disabled person, or are found to have infected their partners with HIV. The proposed law, if passed in its current shape, would also punish attempted homosexuality as well as the failure of a third party to inform the authorities of homosexual activity.

Protecting family

Ndorwa West MP David Bahati, who wrote the law and has since owned it, has said he is not in a hate campaign.

"It is under threat. Anybody who says homosexuality is minor underestimates the damage being done," Mr Bahati said in a recent interview.

President Museveni's rhetoric has been strongly against homosexuality, telling a recent function for young Ugandans that "God was not foolish to create man and woman".

Critics of the proposed law point out that it is not grounded in evidence, as the authorities have never produced facts to back claims of gay recruitment in schools, and that the Penal Code Act already punishes homosexuality as "a crime against the order of nature".

"We don't need that law," Kampala lawyer Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi said yesterday. The proposed law is unconstitutional and would violate the privacy of individuals who consent to homosexual relationships, Mr Rwakafuuzi said.

With some activists calling for the expulsion of Uganda from the Commonwealth, controversy over the proposed law had threatened to be a major sticking point at the summit, opened by Queen Elizabeth on Friday.

Rwanda's Chogm nod

But it emerged yesterday that Rwanda's admission into the organisation that unites former British colonies would be a major highlight. In a report quoted by the BBC and the French Press Agency, the Rwandan New Times reported that Rwanda had been admitted on the strength of its performance since the 1994 genocide.

"My government sees this accession as recognition of the tremendous progress this country has made in the last 15 years," Information Minister Louise Mushikiwabo was quoted as saying.

"Rwandans are ready to seize economic, political, cultural and other opportunities offered by the Commonwealth network."

The 2009 Chogm event was due to end by press time in which Rwanda's admission to the Club of former British colonies was to be officially announced.

In 2008, as diplomatic relations between Kigali and Paris deteriorated, Rwanda expressed its desire to join the Commonwealth, but its bid was heavily undermined by questions about the country's human rights record and the lack of political freedom. Rwanda becomes the 54th country of the commonwealth fold.

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