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January 21, 2014

Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill Still a Threat, Activists Say

by Hilary Heuler

While speculation persists as to whether Ugandan President Museveni will sign the "Anti-Homosexuality Bill" passed by parliament, civil society groups are calling attention to the implications of the bill, if it were to become law.

Last week, the Ugandan press published a letter from President Museveni to the country’s parliament, fueling speculation he would refuse to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill passed by lawmakers in December.

But at a news conference Tuesday, a coalition of civil society organizations reminded the public that Museveni has yet to officially refuse, and warned that the bill, in their view, still poses a threat.

The bill would make certain homosexual acts punishable by life in prison.  It also criminalizes “promotion” of homosexuality, as well as the failure to report homosexuals to the police.

Some organizations have been opposing the bill on public health grounds.  Alice Kayongo of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation said Tuesday that HIV incidence in Uganda is on the rise, and that gay men are at a higher risk than others of contracting the virus.  If the president signs the bill into law, she says, it could make this group difficult, or even illegal, to reach.

“I imagine having someone come to me requesting condoms, and I say I am unable to provide them.  And yet I know that condoms will probably prevent this person from either passing on HIV or acquiring HIV," she noted. "So for me to say no to someone because I fear that I could be branded as a promoter of homosexuality, it just makes no sense to me.”

A lawyer for the civil liberties organization Chapter Four Uganda, Nicholas Opiyo, notes the Ugandan parliament passed the bill without the necessary quorum.  This irregularity should make it possible to challenge the bill in court.

“The legal process would be to challenge the process of passing the law itself.  The issues about quorum was raised.  In the past, such laws have been declared null and void.  So I think the option of challenging that law in court for procedural irregularities is open,” said Opiyo.

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights met with the president last week, and reported that Museveni intends to block the bill.  But Opiyo says the  president has probably not even received the final copy of the bill from parliament.  When he does, Museveni will have 30 days to respond.

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