Uganda has announced its plans to introduce the death penalty for homosexuality, stating that the new legislation would address the increase in “unnatural sex” in the country.
Colloquially referred to as the “Kill the Gays” bill, the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act was passed on 20 December 2013, with the death penalty replacing the previous punishment of life imprisonment. President Yoweri Museveni signed it into law on 24 February 2014, however, it was nullified on 1 August 2014 based on a technicality. The bill, which has been supported by the President, could be revived in a matter of weeks when it is reintroduced to parliament for a vote.
“Homosexuality is not natural to Ugandans, but there has been a massive recruitment by gay people in schools, and especially among the youth, where they are promoting the falsehood that people are born like that,” Uganda’s Ethics and Integrity Minister, Simon Lokodo, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“Our current penal law is limited. It only criminalises the act. We want it made clear that anyone who is even involved in promotion and recruitment has to be criminalised. Those that do grave acts will be given the death sentence.”
African countries are known for having some of the most discriminatory and strictest laws that govern same-sex relationships. Homosexuality is often considered to be a crime – one that can be punishable by either imprisonment or the death penalty. And under British colonial law, homosexual sex in Uganda carries a sentence of up to life imprisonment.
After the bill was authorised by President Museveni in 2014, the East African nation faced international criticism. The United States reduced aid, imposed visa restrictions, and cancelled military exercises. The World Bank, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands also suspended or redirected aid.
Lokodo, however, remains optimistic about the bill being passed and said that Uganda was ready for any negative public backlash.
“It is a concern,” he said. “But we are ready. We don’t like blackmailing. Much as we know that this is going to irritate our supporters in budget and governance, we can’t just bend our heads and bow before people who want to impose a culture which is foreign to us.”
Many are concerned that the new legislation may instill even more hate crime in the country. On Friday 4th October 2019, Brian Wasswa, was hacked to death with a gardening hoe in his home in Jinja. It has been the fourth act of violence committed against people in the LGBT community in the last three months in Uganda.
Pepe Julian Onziema, a spokeperson from Sexual Minorities Uganda, said that the last time the law was proposed, it whipped up homophobic sentiment and crimes, expressing that the situation could worsen.
“Hundreds of LGBT+ people have been forced to leave the country as refugees and more will follow if this law is enacted,” Onziema said. “It will criminalise us from even advocated for LGBT+ rights, let alone supporting and protecting sexual minorities.”
In 2011, the advocacy officer for Sexual Minorities Uganda and one of the country’s most prominent LGBT rights activist, David Kato, was murdered in suspicious circumstances after being bludgeoned on the head with a hammer. His death came soon after winning a court case over a newspaper that called for homosexuals to be killed. Kato had reported to colleagues that he had a substantial increase in threats and harassment since the victory. Many believed that his sexual orientation and activism was the reason for his death.
For a nation that is not a stranger to civil unrest and violence, the implementation of such a bill could provoke further discord if civilians are targeted due to sexual orientation. When the act was first suggested, Amnesty International called for LGBT and human rights activists to fight for, not only the repeal of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, but also the abolishing of existing anti-gay laws that had seen an escalation of violent attacks against and, harassment of, LGBT people in Uganda.
“The basic human rights to freedom, dignity, and freedom from discrimination must be protected for all Ugandans, at home and abroad,” said the organisation.