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Why Uganda’s LGBTQ Community is Under Renewed Fire

Uganda is already a tough place to be LGBTQ, but lawmakers want to make it even harder. The east African nation’s parliament in March unanimously approved a draconian “Anti-Homosexuality Bill” that would extend colonial-era sodomy laws and see violators sentenced to lengthy prison terms or even death. Civil rights groups have condemned the measure amid warnings that it may deter foreign aid and investment in one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies if it is signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni. 

1. What’s the backdrop?

Homosexuality is banned in more than half of the 54 African nations and widely frowned upon in many others. That includes Uganda, which inherited its original anti-gay laws from Britain, the former ruling power. Ugandan lawmakers and religious leaders — often encouraged by US evangelical groups — have said LGBTQ practices are contrary to Christian, Islamic and African culture and have no place in Uganda. In February, the archbishop of the Church of Uganda, Stephen Kaziimba, condemned a decision by the Church of England to allow clergy to preside over a blessing for same-sex unions — an issue that has split the Anglican Communion. (Uganda was among those boycotting last year’s conference of the global grouping of Anglican churches.) Museveni, who has described homosexual people as “deviants,” signed a previous version of the law that was later struck down by the courts on a technicality. He hasn’t said whether he’ll sign the new version, but at a public appearance in April he described homosexuality as “degeneration” and a threat to procreation. 

2. What does the new bill propose? 

It states that the nation’s capacity to deal with “emerging internal and external threats to the traditional, heterosexual family” must be enhanced and that Ugandans need protection against activists who “promote” homosexuality. These are some of its main provisions: 

• The death sentence may be imposed on those who are found guilty of so-called “aggravated homosexuality.” That categorization includes those who are HIV positive or have same-sex intercourse with someone under the age of 18.

• Individuals can be sentenced to life imprisonment if they are convicted of “committing homosexuality,” and for as long as 20 years for a range of other offenses related to their sexual conduct.

• Persons under the age of 18 who are found guilty of homosexuality can be jailed for as long as three years.

• People who witness a homosexual act and fail to report it, or who preside over or participate in gay marriages, or falsely accuse others of being homosexual, can also be incarcerated.

• Legal entities that are convicted of “promoting homosexuality” can be fined 1 billion shillings ($265,000).

Once the bill is submitted to Museveni, he has 30 days to sign it into law or return it to parliament. The president’s decision may coincide with the Global Anglican Future Conference that’s set to bring together conservative Anglican leaders from April 17 to 21 in Rwanda.

3. Is this constitutional?

The Constitutional Court struck down similar anti-gay legislation in 2014 that Museveni had signed. But that was on the grounds that lawmakers approved the law without the required quorum, and no determination was made on the constitutionality. Some legal experts have argued that discriminating against people based on their sexual identity or practices could constitute a violation of the constitutional right to freedom of expression, association and liberty. Sexual Minorities Uganda, a coalition that fights for LGBTQ rights, and other organizations have indicated that they will challenge the new law in court if the president approves it.

4. How has the bill been received internationally?

United Nations experts say that making homosexuality punishable by death constitutes “an egregious violation of human rights” and have urged the president not to approve the bill. The World Health Organization cautions that the legislation risks stunting progress made in reducing the spread of HIV in Uganda. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other civil rights groups warn that homophobic attacks could increase. The US and other Western governments have condemned the measure, while the African Union has refrained from commenting. 

5. What’s the potential economic fallout?

The International Monetary Fund has said it expects Uganda’s economy to expand by an average of more than 6% annually over the next five years. However, the new law could make operating in the country awkward. Open for Business, an alliance of global companies including JPMorgan Chase & Co., Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc. and Deutsche Bank AG, called the bill “unacceptable,” saying that companies would be required to report employees suspected of being in gay relationships — or be vulnerable to blackmail if they don’t. It also could place billions of dollars of investments at risk at a time when companies such as TotalEnergies SE are looking to start producing oil in Uganda. The World Bank and other lenders that have helped to shore up Uganda’s finances may also face pressure from shareholders and rights groups to review their relationship with the country. Almost a fifth of the country’s latest budget was funded using external financing. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, Museveni’s son, tweeted that Uganda could do without foreign investors. 

Source : The Washington Post