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Activists Welcome Ugandan President Calling for Review of Anti-Gay Bill

FILE - Uganda’s queer activist Papa De raises a fist outside the Uganda High Commission during a picket against the country’s anti-homosexuality bill in Pretoria, South Africa, on April 4, 2023.

Human rights activists welcome the move by President Yoweri Museveni to return a draft of the anti-homosexuality bill to parliament for review, saying it provides them with more time to fight it.

On Thursday, Museveni, in a meeting with legislators of the ruling National Resistance Movement party, congratulated them upon passing the bill in March. But Museveni said that while he agrees with the bill, legislators need to make changes to not frighten someone who, in his words, needs rehabilitation and wants to come out.

The bill was widely condemned for what human rights activists have called some of the world's harshest punishments against the gay community.

FILE - Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni speaks during an interview at his farm in Kisozi settlement of Gomba district, in the Central region of Uganda, Jan. 16, 2022.
FILE - Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni speaks during an interview at his farm in Kisozi settlement of Gomba district, in the Central region of Uganda, Jan. 16, 2022.

The bill mandates life in prison for anyone who engages in homosexual acts, up to 20 years for promoting homosexuality, and a three-year sentence for children convicted of homosexuality. Certain acts of gay sex could warrant the death penalty.

Speaking to VOA, the ruling party's chief whip in parliament, Denis Hamson Obua, said parliament will examine the bill "in order for some proposed clauses to be reviewed, to be reinforced, to be strengthened. There is also the question of rehabilitation of the victims."

"But we also agreed in principle that the proposed sentences in terms of punishment for promotion, recruitment and publicizing acts of homosexuality will be sustained," he added.

The NRM caucus will likely decriminalize failure to report homosexuality. The current bill requires everyone to report a person known to be gay to police, but Museveni wants that provision removed.

Amnesty International continues to call on Museveni to veto the bill.

"It is sad that he did not veto the bill," said Roland Ebole, Amnesty's regional researcher. "But what we are actually saying, the provisions of the bill are very dangerous, the death sentence. Having sentences that go against the constitution. And really worried about the forced testing of persons because they are suspected of having committed aggravated homosexuality, and especially targeting HIV/AIDS community."

Amnesty also argues that forced testing will increase stigma and reverse achievements against HIV and AIDS made by Uganda.

The United States pays for anti-retroviral drugs for hundreds of thousands of Ugandans each year. The country director for the U.S. Agency for International Development recently said the bill, if passed, would make it impossible for the agency to work in Uganda.

Joan Ameka, founder of the Rella Foundation, a group that provides shelter to queer women, said Museveni sending the bill back for review provides some hope.

"We could have a chance to have a conversation on how further do we protect queer persons in Uganda. Because the bill so far has caused a lot of damages, especially in the lowest communities that are offering support," Ameka said.

Museveni has called for a meeting with the proposer of the bill, Justice Reform opposition party legislator Asuman Basalirwa, to agree on amendments to the bill before parliament considers it again.