KAMPALA, UGANDA — The president of Uganda has signed an anti-homosexuality bill into law, defying Western governments and international human rights groups.
Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda, but the new law imposes much harsher penalties, including 14-year prison terms for first-time offenders and life sentences for so-called “aggravated homosexuality.”
“Promotion” of homosexuality also has been criminalized, as well as failure to report a gay person to police.
Speaking Monday from the state house in Entebbe, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said he was signing the bill because the scientists he consulted had not found a gene for homosexuality.
“There are those who engage in homosexuality for mercenary reasons, especially here; the ones who are recruited mainly for poverty. And then there are those who become homosexual by both nature, some element of genetics, and nurture.”
The move comes despite years of intense pressure from Western countries and human rights groups not to sign the bill.
President Barack Obama has called the new law a “step backward” for Uganda, and said it would “complicate” relations between the two countries. At the moment the United States gives Uganda about $400 million annually in aid.
Gay and lesbian rights activist Kasha Nabagesera said Uganda’s homosexual community has been expecting this move for some time, and that they intend to challenge it in court.
“Right now we are just trying to remain calm, and then we will continue with our focus which is to challenge it in the constitutional court. We are just putting the final touches on our petition,” said Nabagesera.
The bill was passed by parliament in December without the necessary quorum, and many expect it to be ruled unconstitutional.
Nabagesera said the legal challenge will begin later this week.
Museveni issued a defiant response last Friday to U.S. pressure, published in the local media, in which he criticized Western counties for trying to impose their views on Uganda.
Museveni initially indicated he would refuse to sign the bill passed by the Ugandan parliament in December. He later changed his position after consulting with a panel of Ugandan scientists, though some scientists have claimed the president misinterpreted the panel’s conclusions.