New Vision (Kampala)

Uganda: Cabinet Debates Homosexuality Draft Law

Kampala — THE Cabinet has debated the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill now before parliament and agreed to amend it.

In a heated meeting yesterday, chaired by the second deputy Prime Minister, Henry Kajura, the Cabinet formed a committee which will deliberate on the matter before reaching a final position on the highly contested legislation.

The committee, to be chaired by local government minister Adolf Mwesige, will come up with a proposal that will be forwarded to the legal, parliamentary, presidential and foreign affairs committees.

"It was a heated debate for over two hours. Those who expressed reservations fear the cutting of aid by western governments," said a source who preferred anonymity.

"Those for it argued that we need to maintain our independence and values as a country," the source added.

There were 21 Cabinet members in the meeting.

While broadly supported domestically, the 2009 anti-homosexuality Bill has caused a tempest abroad and anxiety from western donors who fund a large chunk of Uganda's budget.

Those opposed to the Bill say it is discriminatory and violates human rights.

Breaking his silence on the proposed bill drawn by David Bahati, a member of the ruling NRM party, President Yoweri Museveni last week said it had become a "foreign policy issue" and needed further consultation before being voted on in parliament.

The Minister of Ethics and Integrity, James Nsaba Buturo, said: "We took note of very strong feelings which both sides of the debate have expressed."

Asked about the Cabinet's position on clauses proposing a death penalty, Buturo said: "I can only speak in general that there are some clauses or provisions which can be modified."

"There is a need to have a second look at some of the issues which have been raised by the international community and some Ugandans."

Sources said the Cabinet was divided on the clause spelling out the death penalty. After failing to agree on a position, works minister John Nasasira reportedly proposed that the Bill be delayed. His position was rejected, sources disclosed.

"Once they have got a position, we will dialogue with the committees," Buturo explained.

"The cabinet, however, reaffirmed the obvious, that the Bill itself is a private member's Bill. That it's not the property of the executive," Buturo added.

He further disclosed that the meeting resolved not to withdraw the Bill from parliament, being a private member's Bill. The meeting also agreed to uphold "traditional family values", which they said was the spirit of the Bill.

The Cabinet also discussed how to proceed following the political pressure that has come with the proposed Bill.

The United Kingdom, Sweden, the United States and other countries have expressed strong concerns about the proposed law.

Bahati, who was asked to make his case before the Cabinet on Wednesday, declined to discuss details of the meeting but said "the process of legislating based on our values as a country moves on."

The proposed law would impose the death penalty for aggravated homosexuality. Homosexuality was outlawed in Uganda by the 1950 penal code and 1995 Constitution.

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