450,000 Sign to Kill Anti-Gay Bill in Uganda

Published on Tuesday 2nd March 2010

Almost half a million people have petitioned Parliament to drop debate on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Religious leaders and HIV/Aids activists handed a copy of the petition with signatures, collected mainly through the Internet from all over the world, including Uganda, to Speaker Edward Ssekandi on Monday.

Canon Gideon Byamugisha, the first practicing African religious leader to declare he was living with HIV, and a prominent campaigner against the disease, handed over the petition. Retired Anglican Bishop Christopher Ssenyonjo accompanied him and the two men described the law as "draconian" and demanded for its withdrawal.

"In the interests of safer, healthier, more peaceful, and more prosperous lives for all Ugandans; we as Aids Service Providers, pastors and spiritual mentors of all Ugandans are calling for the withdrawal of this Bill from Parliament," the petition read in part.

Other key activists in the delegation included, HIV/Aids campaigner Maj. (rtd) Rubaramira Ruranga and Ms Noerine Kareeba, founder of The Aids Support Organisation.

Homosexuality is already a criminal offence in Uganda but the private member's Bill brought by MP David Bahati proposes the death penalty for gay rape and defilement, as well as stiff penalties for those who do not report gay acts.

Supporters of the Bill say it will uphold "family values" in the country but critics say it is discriminatory, erodes civil liberties, and will make it harder for gay people to access health care.

Before the activists had walked out of Parliament yesterday, Pastor Martin Ssempa, one of the leading supporters of the Bill, wrote to the Speaker asking him to reject their petition.

Donors threaten

The latest opposition to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill comes after the US government threatened to expel Uganda from the African Growth and Opportunities Act trade arrangement if the Bill became law.

In his response to the petition, the Speaker said: "We cannot withdraw the Bill at this stage; it's already a property of Parliament and MPs on the committee to handle this will give an opportunity to all the sides and a report will be presented for debate."

He added: "It's perfectly okay to express dissent. Otherwise to accept or to reject this Bill will be decided by Parliament. A lot of time is going to be given to the committee to study and scrutinise this Bill and all your views will be discussed in detail."

In their petition the activists say: "We are united in opposing this Bill because if passed into law it threatens the health, peace and well being of Ugandan citizens and goes against the Ugandan Constitution which promises freedom from discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, colour, ethnic origin, tribe, creed, birth or religion, social or economic standing, political opinion or disability."

Addressing his ruling NRM party members at State House Entebbe in January, President Museveni told advocates of the Bill slow down, saying the matter had become a sensitive foreign policy issue.

Mr Museveni told the NRM NEC meeting that several foreign leaders had called him over the Bill. He said he had spoken to Ms Hilary Clinton for about 45 minutes on the matter.

DC Agenda, an American newspaper, reported on Dec. 19 that Mr Museveni had assured the US State Department of his willingness to veto the Bill, in case Parliament passed it. State House has not denied these reports.

Violation of culture

While the proponents of the Bill say that it sought to protect the fabric of Uganda's culture and traditions, the petitioners told the Speaker that "the Bill is not about protecting culture. It violates our cultures and religious values that teach against intolerance, injustice, hatred and violence".

On the proposed death penalty, the petitioners told the Speaker: "We need laws to protect people, not ones that will humiliate, ridicule, prosecute and kill them en masse. We therefore are calling on you and Members of Parliament to reject this Bill..."

Mr Bahati was not available for comment as the Speaker advised the activists to wait for the Parliamentary process to present their views on the Bill. He said no one would force Parliament to withdraw the Bill.


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