Editorial: Ugandan LGBTQs on edge over harsh bill

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday March 29, 2023
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Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. Photo: Reuters
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. Photo: Reuters

Ugandan lawmakers have passed a harsh anti-LGBTQ bill that President Yoweri Museveni has indicated he supports, and LGBTQ residents in the country are on edge. We hope Museveni vetoes the bill, but are not confident he will. He views LGBTQ rights as an ideology that Western countries try to impose on others, but this terrible legislation goes further than most, even prescribing death for the offense of "aggravated homosexuality" and life imprisonment for "homosexuality." The Associated Press reported that "aggravated homosexuality is defined as cases of sex relations involving those infected with HIV as well as minors and other categories of vulnerable people. Jail terms of up to 20 years are proposed for those who advocate or promote the rights of LGBTQ people."

Human Rights Watch reported that the 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Bill "is a revised and more egregious version" of the 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Act, which was signed into law but then struck down by a court on procedural grounds. "One of the most extreme features of this new bill is that it criminalizes people simply for being who they are as well as further infringing on the rights to privacy, and freedoms of expression and association that are already compromised in Uganda," said Oryem Nyeko, Uganda researcher at Human Rights Watch. The bill has led LGBTQ Ugandans to fear they could become homeless. Frank Mugisha, head of the banned LGBTQ support group Sexual Minorities Uganda, told AP, "I am worried about being evicted from the place where I live, because I don't own property. I could become homeless." Should the bill be signed, Mugisha said it would be impossible for him to live in the country.

The U.S. government has taken a stand against the bill. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that the Biden administration had "grave concerns" about it. She noted that if the bill becomes law, tourism and economic investment in Uganda could take a hit, along with the East African country's reputation. But Uganda's leaders don't seem to care about that. Politicians there have repeatedly targeted the LGBTQ community, whether through draconian laws or stopping the work of the non-governmental organization Sexual Minorities Uganda, which it did last year.

John Kirby, the spokesperson for the National Security Council, said the U.S. would "have to take a look at" imposing economic sanctions on Uganda. That would be unfortunate, as much of the country's U.S. aid is in the form of health assistance, including for HIV/AIDS.

The United Nations has also weighed in with its opposition. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk on March 22 stated in a news release that the adoption in Uganda of the new legislation targeting lesbian, gay, and bisexual people was devastating and deeply disturbing. "The passing of this discriminatory bill — probably among the worst of its kind in the world — is a deeply troubling development," Türk stated. "If signed into law by the president, it will render lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in Uganda criminals simply for existing, for being who they are. It could provide carte blanche for the systematic violation of nearly all of their human rights and serve to incite people against each other."

Overall this is a desperate situation. People's lives will be at stake no matter what Museveni does. The easiest thing, or course, would be for Museveni to veto the bill but even that won't stop the rampant homophobia in his country. If he signs the bill and the U.S. imposes sanctions, lives will be in jeopardy if foreign aid is decreased or suspended. LGBTQ Ugandans already have a difficult life in so many respects that forcing them back into the closet is counterproductive. Even as homosexuality is criminalized in more than 30 of Africa's 54 countries, Uganda does not need to add to that count. If the bill does become law, LGBTQ Ugandans will need support from the U.S. and other countries.

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