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Uganda: Sponsor of 2023 anti-homosexuality law eyes new partnerships as aid cuts loom

MP Asuman Basalirwa, the sponsor of the Anti-homoxesuality Act 2023, during a press conference in Kampala on May 29, 2023.   -  
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Cleared / AFP


Uganda announced Monday (May 29) that President Yoweri Museveni had signed into law a bill outlawing homosexual sex and threatening quote unquote promoters 'of homosexuality'.

The bill that stirred controversy outside Uganda was overwhelmingly passed by lawmakers in the East African nation in early May. The legislation's sponsors celebrated its signing.

"I want to confirm to you that what was a bill, is now an act of parliament called the Anti-homosexuality Act 2023," Asuman Basalirwa said, all smiles.

The passage of the anti-gay bill comes after warnings from Uganda's international partners, including close ally the United States, of repercussions should the controversial proposal become law.

MP Asuman Basalirwa who sponsored the legislation was unfazed.

"I am ready to champion the cause of going to the Arab world to look for donor support. The Arab world, we will go to Saudi Arabia, we will go to Kuwait, we will go to Qatar, we will go to UAE, and this deficit which will be occasioned by these cuts can easily be replaced."

Uganda's parliament said on Twitter that Museveni had approved a new draft of the legislation that was passed overwhelmingly by lawmakers in the East African nation earlier this month.

"If you perform a sexual act with a person of the same sex, then you have committed the offence of homosexuality. And what is the punishment? Imprisonment for life. When you carry out acts of homosexuality through force or duress or undue influence, then the law defines that as aggravated homosexuality. And what is the punishment? The maximum punishment is death. Under this law, consent is not a defence. You cannot for example argue that X, who is an adult, consented with Y. Why are you bothered? The law is saying that the fact that you have consented is in itself not a defence", Asuman Basalirwa said.

Outside pressure

MPs had vowed to resist outside pressure over the bill, which they cast as interference in an effort to protect Uganda's national culture and values from Western immorality.

Museveni had called on parliament to rework the bill, although most of the hardline provisions that caused an outcry in the West were retained.

The amended version said that identifying as gay would not be criminalised but "engaging in acts of homosexuality" would be an offence punishable with life imprisonment.

Although Museveni had advised lawmakers to delete a provision making "aggravated homosexuality" a capital offence, lawmakers rejected that move, meaning that repeat offenders could be sentenced to death.

Uganda has not resorted to capital punishment for many years.

The UN Human Rights Office -- whose commissioner Volker Turk in March described the bill as "among the worst of its kind in the world" -- condemned its passage into law.

But the legislation enjoys broad public support in  majority Christian Uganda, which has pursued among the toughest anti-gay legislation in Africa where around 30 nations ban homosexuality.

Concerns of the people

"As Parliament of Uganda, we have heeded the concerns our people and legislated to protect the sanctity of family," the assembly's speaker Anita Among, one of the bill's strongest proponents, said in a statement.

"We have stood strong to defend the culture, values and aspirations of our people."

The revised bill said "a person who is believed or alleged or suspected of being a homosexual, who has not committed a sexual act with another person of the same sex, does not commit the offence of homosexuality".

An earlier version also required Ugandans to report suspected homosexual activity to the police or face six months' imprisonment.

Lawmakers agreed to amend that provision and instead the reporting requirement pertained only to suspected sexual offences against children and vulnerable people, with the penalty raised to five years in jail.

Anyone who "knowingly promotes homosexuality" faces up to 20 years in jail -- a provision left unchanged from the original bill -- while organisations found guilty of encouraging same-sex activity could face a 10-year ban.

Aid cuts and visa cancellations

Reaction from civil society in Uganda has been muted following years of erosion of civic space under Museveni's rule.

The European Parliament voted in April to condemn the bill and asked EU states to pressure Museveni into not implementing it, warning that relations with Kampala were at stake.

The White House also warned the government of possible economic repercussions if the legislation took effect.

A 2014 anti-gay bill signed into law by Museveni but later struck down prompted foreign aid cuts by Western nations, and diplomats have warned similar measures are being considered now.

The MP who sponsored the bill, said aid cuts were expected and that Among, the parliament speaker, had already been informed her US visa had been revoked.

"Our colleagues in the Western world have indicated and actually actualised their threats – visas have been cancelled. As I speak now, the speaker's visas have been cancelled for America, the other day… and this is also confirmed. This is an email from the US embassy: 'Dear Madam speaker, The United States government has revoked your current visas'", Asuman Basalirwa, added.

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