News / Africa

US Calls Ugandan Anti-Gay Legislation 'Odious'

State Department Acting Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner
State Department Acting Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner

The United States is joining human rights groups in condemning draft legislation in Uganda that would impose the death penalty for some homosexual behavior.  The State Department called the measure “odious.”

U.S. officials have been critical of the anti-homosexuality bill since it was first introduced in the Ugandan parliament in 2009.

Terms of the measure have been softened in response to international criticism.  But as it apparently nears final action with some harsh provisions intact, the State Department is renewing its call for Ugandan legislators to reject it.

The legislation would impose the death penalty for what is termed “aggravated homosexuality” and would also impose jail terms for public discussion of the subject, and penalize anyone who knowingly rents property to a homosexual.

A Ugandan parliamentary committee this week tossed out a provision that would criminalize “attempted homosexuality” and another that would require anyone knowing of homosexual conduct to report it to police within 24 hours.

President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have criticized the pending legislation.  And State Department Acting Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said Thursday that the measure, even as amended, should be rejected.

“No amendments, no changes, would justify the passage of this odious bill.  We continue to join Uganda’s own human rights commission in calling for its rejection.  We’re following this legislative process very closely.  Both the President and the Secretary of State have publicly said it’s inconsistent with universal human rights standards and obligations,” Toner said.

Toner said it is unclear when the measure might come up for a vote.  He said the U.S. embassy in Kampala is closely monitoring the proceedings, and is in contact with Ugandan human rights groups and members of the country’s gay community.

Human Rights Watch says that even with the amendments, the legislation is discriminatory and poses a “profound threat” to homosexuals in Uganda, and puts the country at odds with fundamental human rights obligations.

The legislation is reported to be widely popular in Uganda, where many people consider themselves to be religious conservatives, and view foreign criticism of the bill as outside interference.  Several U.S.-based evangelical pastors have visited Uganda and urged support for the measure.

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