4 December 2012

Uganda: The Stark Realities Lying Behind the Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Photo: Kaytee Riek/Flickr
A protester holds up a sign at a rally against Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill.


For those of us working internationally to uphold the rights of sexual minorities, the reappearance of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill on the agenda for the Ugandan Parliament has taken on a chillingly familiar air.

In spite of a successful campaign by the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law (CSCHRCL) within Uganda that prevented the Bill's passage when it was introduced in 2009, the particularly pernicious elements of the Bill remain intact in this new assault on the human rights of Ugandan citizens. From what the Coalition can see, the worst excesses of the original legislation remain unaltered.

Increasingly though, on this occasion attention is being drawn to wider implications beyond the immediate impact of the proposed Bill. A pattern is recognisably emerging where it appears the flames of virulent homophobia are fanned at times when other issues more crucial to the interests of Ugandan citizens risk dominating public discourse.

Currently, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill lies in a queue behind another controversial bill that will determine who has access and control over Uganda's lucrative oil resources.

Similarly, a number of high-level corruption scandals dog the Government, such as those within the Office of the Prime Minister and Ministry of Public Service, which have led in recent weeks to aid withdrawal from a number of countries, including the UK and Germany. Simultaneously, attacks on press freedom and civil society continue to occur.

Accusations that the Ugandan Government is diverting attention isn't just a convenient conspiracy theory being propagated by opponents of the Bill, but has also received support from the most unlikely of places.

The National Coalition Against Homosexuality and Sexual Abuses in Uganda (NCAHSAU) have come out against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, arguing that current legislation on the statute books is sufficient to criminalise homosexuality. They also believe that the Bill is distracting attention from dealing with serious corruption in the country.

Alongside the headline "kill the gays" provisions within the Bill and an unprecedented intrusion into the private sphere of Ugandan society, the legislation also has troubling implications for other states within the international community and the ability for those of us engaging in development to operate safely and effectively with our partners in-country.

One of the under-discussed elements of the Bill is the provision for Ugandans who engage in same-sex activities outside of Uganda to be extradited for punishment.

Considering the likelihood that if the Bill is passed, some Ugandan citizens may feel compelled to leave their country for sanctuary, this move represents a robust assertion by the Ugandan Government to take this political fight to the international community.

Yet how realistic and practical would this be? What level of intrusion into private behaviour in countries such as the UK would the Ugandan authorities be able to monitor in order to bring charges against Ugandans living here? Are countries with strong human rights provisions in their law likely to agree to extradition under this context?

I'm adding my voice to the growing international coalition in condemning the current move to pass this dangerous, discriminatory and undemocratic Bill.

As I've written previously, for an organisation working alongside partners globally on a variety of poverty alleviation and aid issues, this Bill represents a threat to our ability to support vulnerable communities in improving health, education, civic participation and economic outcomes in Uganda.

Stephen Wood is a researcher on the Sexuality and Development Programme in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS and can be found on Twitter as: StephenWood_UK . Read other recent blogs by Stephen Wood:

Putting pleasure into safer sex interventions

Diversifying our strategies for sexual equality

Challenging attempts to silence civil society in Uganda

Clinton and LGBT rights: whose voice really matters?

This blog was originally published by the Institute of Development Studies

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