Uganda’s president refuses to sign new anti-LGBTQ+ law – The Guardian

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has refused to sign a controversial anti-LGBTQ+ law that would put homosexuality under the death penalty and is requesting that it be returned to parliament for reconsideration.

The decision was announced on Thursday after a meeting between the president and MPs from the ruling party, who decided to return the tough law to the National Assembly “with proposals for its improvement”.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the proposed changes would make the proposed law even tougher, although a spokesman said the president had asked lawmakers to consider “the issue of rehabilitation.” “I totally agree with the bill, but my original problem is the mentally disoriented person,” Museveni said, according to a statement.

Museveni has 30 days to either sign the bill, send it to Parliament for revision, or veto it and inform the Speaker of Parliament. However, it can come into force without the consent of the President if he submits it twice to Parliament.

The law, as it stands, provides for death penalties and life imprisonment for homosexual sex, up to 14 years for “attempted” homosexuality, and 20 years in prison for “recruiting, promoting and financing” same-sex “activities.”

An earlier version of the bill drew widespread international criticism and was later overturned by Uganda’s Constitutional Court on procedural grounds. In Uganda, a largely conservative Christian East African country, homosexual sex is already punishable by life imprisonment.

The law, which UN human rights chief Volker Türk called “shocking and discriminatory” last month, was passed almost unanimously by 389 MPs on March 21.

The decision to return the bill to Parliament drew mixed reactions, with human rights activists calling for it to be shelved entirely.

“This is the respite the LGBTIQ community needs,” said Clare Byarugaba, an LGBTQ+ advocate in Kampala, in a tweet.

“If you’ve never had a hideous state-sanctioned hate law hanging over your head every waking morning, hold your freedom dear. The fight goes on,” she wrote.

Adrian Jjuuko of the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum in Kampala said Museveni’s decision offers another chance to thwart the law, but warned the president’s ambiguous comments were still troubling.

“He only seems to want to exclude from punishment people who come out as gay and seek rehabilitation. As a result, some LGBTI people would be turned against others, as the first to report and present themselves as victims in a consensual relationship would get off scot-free. Second, the president doesn’t seem to have a problem with the vague language regarding advertising that essentially makes any discussion of LGBTIQ an advertisement for homosexuality,” Jjuuko said.

Supporters of the bill also welcomed the move. “It is a good step forward to include in legislation an amnesty for those who voluntarily give up sodomy,” said Pastor Martin Ssempa, one of the bill’s key supporters. “And to include in the legislation a roadmap for rehabilitation that includes rehabilitation centers. Both amendments are humane and legitimate,” he said.

Agnès Callamard, Secretary-General of Amnesty International, said the “deeply repressive” law should be dropped. “Instead of persecuting LGBTI people, the Ugandan authorities should protect their rights by aligning their laws with international human rights laws and standards,” she said.

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“The criminalization of consensual same-sex conduct flagrantly violates numerous human rights, including the right to dignity, equality before the law, equal protection under the law and non-discrimination.”

On April 17, a court in the eastern city of Jinja refused to release six young educators working for health organizations after they were arrested and charged with “participating in a criminal sex network.” Ugandan police confirmed that they carried out forced anal examinations on the six people and tested them for HIV.

More than 110 LGBTQ+ people in Uganda have reported incidents including arrests, sexual violence, evictions and public stripping to the Sexual Minorities Uganda (Smug) advocacy group in February alone. Transgender people are disproportionately affected, the group said.

Museveni has claimed that his government is trying to resist Western efforts to “normalize” what he called “deviations.” “Western countries should stop wasting mankind’s time trying to impose their practices on other people,” he said.

This week a group of leading scientists and academics from Africa and around the world called on Museveni to veto the law, saying that “homosexuality is a normal and natural variant of human sexuality”. In response to Museveni’s call for a scientific and medical opinion on homosexuality, the authors of the letter wrote: “The science on the subject is crystal clear.”

Prof Glenda Gray, President of the South African Medical Research Council, said: “Gayness is natural and normal wherever it occurs in the world. Sexual orientation knows no boundaries. Despite all the rhetoric, homosexuality is not a harmful Western import.”

“If anything, it’s state-sponsored homophobia, which is un-African and goes against the principles of Ubuntu [humanity toward others]not homosexuality,” she said.