Future of Uganda Bill Unclear
BY Michelle Garcia
May 12 2011 12:50 PM ET
Update: The Uganda parliament adjourned Friday without taking action on the Anti-Homosexuality bill, leaving the fate of the bill unclear for the remainder of the parliamentary session.
According to the Associated Press, “The speaker of Uganda's parliament says there is not enough time for legislators to act on a controversial anti-gay bill -- which in some cases mandates the death sentence -- before parliament's session ends next week.”
Although debate on the bill had been scheduled for Friday, speaker Edward Ssekandi Kiwanuk adjourned parliament and set not date for lawmakers to return.
Avaaz, which worked with All Out on an online petition to stop the bill signed by two million people this week, confirmed the reports of stalled discussion in an announcement Friday morning, saying it was informed by EU diplomats in parliament in Kampala.
Warren Throckmorton reports that parliamentary spokeswoman Helen Kawesa said a “technicality” is the reason for the parliament’s stall.
“She said there is no Cabinet in place because it was dissolved in preparation for the end of the 8th Parliament in advance of yesterday’s presidential inauguration,” reports Throckmorton. “It is unclear who raised the issue of the necessity for Cabinet to be place for business to be conducted. However the effect is that the session is winding up, with members discussing how to proceed before the end of the 8th Parliament on 18th.”
On Thursday, reports indicated that the Ugandan Parliament's Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee would recommend the version of the Anti-Homosexuality bill that retains the death penalty for acts of "aggravated homosexuality," according to Human Rights Watch.
The committee's report does remove some provisions, but adds criminal penalties for "conducting a marriage ceremony between persons of the same sex." The next step would be for the committee's report to head to the full Parliament on Friday for debate before being subject to a vote.
Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT Program at Human Rights Watch, said the report should be scrapped. He said that consultations in which HRW was included, only three of the total 20 committee members were present. The committee claims they also consulted the Justice Ministry, Uganda Law Reform Commission, prisons, and the Uganda Human Rights Commission.
"Even if these suggestions are taken on board, the bill will remain discriminatory, a profound threat to Uganda's LGBT community and put Uganda at odds with its fundamental human rights obligations," Reid said.
According to the report, MP David Bahati, author of the legislation that was first introduced in October 2009, reportedly told the committee that the death penalty could be stripped from the bill. The committee, however, decided to keep the death penalty, by rewording the provision to match the current penal code making "aggravated defilement" punishable by death.
The U.S. State Department, in conjunction with its Ugandan counterpart, publicly condemned the Anti-Homosexuality bill, CNN reports.
"No amendments, no changes, would justify the passage of this odious bill," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Thursday.
Ugandan MP David Bahati, author of the notorious Anti-Homosexuality bill, told NPR Thursday that the death penalty has been removed from the proposed law. However, as Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin points out, the bill has not had a second reading in front of Parliament, meaning that there has not been an official removal of the death penalty, even if lawmakers have discussed doing so. The second reading is scheduled for Friday.
Arguing that the death penalty would help stop the abuse, and assault of children, Bahati said international outcry against the bill by political leaders like U.S. President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and U.K. Foreign Minister William Hague is unwarranted.
"In my opinion, it's a contradiction to democracy because this process is democratic," he said of their criticisms. "There is no leader in the world that believes children should be subject to treatment that they don't like."
Watching Wednesday's discussion of the bill in Parliament, Ugandan gay rights activist Frank Mugisha told The Advocate that he experienced "a sad six hours."
"For once, I felt that the bill, if brought to [a vote] will most definitely get passed, because it seemed to have overwhelming support from all members of Parliament." Mugisha said. "As I was in panic all through thinking of what will happen, but now we wait for Friday."
If Parliament fails to act on the bill, or if President Yoweri Musevini, who is being re-inaugurated Thursday sends it back to lawmakers, it could be pushed forward to the next session of Parliament, slated to begin next week.