By Bryna Subherwal, Individuals at Risk Campaigner for the Americas at Amnesty International USA
Uganda is a country where the human rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) community have been stripped away by anti-gay legislation already on the books. The country's LGBT community has a history of being harassed and silenced by the government and the Ugandan police. A new bill is now being proposed that goes even further by imposing sentences ranging from seven years in prison to death for either being gay or supporting anyone who is. The new Anti-Homosexuality Bill being considered by Uganda's Parliament proposes a life sentence for engaging in "homosexual activity" and the death sentence for "aggravated homosexuality". The bill also imposes a sentence of seven years in prison for anyone providing protection or assistance to LGBT individuals, threatening the valuable work of human rights activists and organizations operating in Uganda.
If this bill is allowed to pass it could have global ripple effects for LGBT activists all over the world. Even Ugandans living abroad, under the proposed bill, could face extradition and imprisonment if charged with being homosexual or in aiding homosexuals in Uganda. If past harassment of the Ugandan LGBT community is any indicator, the proposed bill would likely lead to witch hunts, more harassments, violence, and even extrajudicial executions. The bill's "nullification" of international treaties that would offer a form of protection or recourse for Uganda's LGBT people and LGBT activists further limits the role of international bodies and governments.
The proposed bill has garnered attention in the U.S. due to a recent New York Times article citing a link between recent visits by anti-gay American evangelicals and the introduction of the bill. Discussion between anti-gay American evangelicals and conservative elements within the Ugandan government regarding the threat of homosexuality may have been the match that lit the fuel of the current fever of homophobia being felt in Uganda. Currently there is growing momentum in the U.S. Congress calling for the repeal of the proposed legislation and President Obama has come out in criticism of the bill's measures.
In a country that has survived a relatively recent experience with periods of tremendous violence and indiscriminant executions, the passage of the Anti-Homosexual Bill could ultimately take the country backwards to a time when individuals were singled out for political and social reasons for random arrest and execution. The proposal of the bill, therefore, offers an opportunity to 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 have 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.
Contribution by Msia Clark, Uganda Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA