Ugandan Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo has recently announced plans to reintroduce a bill that could impose the death penalty for homosexuality. According to the Independent, the Ugandan government legislation would extinguish a rise in “unnatural sex,” and further noted that “under British colonial law, gay sex in Uganda is punishable with up to life imprisonment.”
CNN reported that Uganda had made headlines in 2009 after introducing the anti-homosexuality bill and included a death sentence for gay sex. According to CNN, the “country’s lawmakers passed a bill in 2014, but they replaced the death penalty clause with a proposal of life in prison.” President Yoweri Museveni reportedly signed the bill, though it was reported by the Associated Press that this was annulled by the country’s constitutional course due to lacking quoracy at the assembly.
Museveni had previously told CNN that gay people are “disgusting” and had commissioned a group of Ugandan governmental scientists to examine if homosexuality is “learned, concluding that it is a matter of choice.” This was responded to by Dean Hamer, a scientist emeritus at the National Institutes of Health in 2014, responding to their conclusions: “There is no scientific evidence that homosexual orientation is a ‘learned’ behaviour any more than is heterosexual orientation.” It is important to note here that the scientists Museveni commissioned were government-aligned. This therefore calls me to question the transparency, integrity, and accountability of not only their findings but their intentions.
Clare Byarugaba, an LGBTQ activist told CNN that the “ bill was meant to make us go underground, but instead the community organized to fight,” further adding that the Ugandan government is “underestimating the resilience and strength that exists within the Ugandan LGBTQ community.”
Democratic access and opportunity has been under threat. According to the Guardian, in 2017 the Ugandan government decided to “cancel a week of gay pride celebrations in the country for a second consecutive year” further reporting that Lokodo had said “now they want to move on the streets and talking about MSM [men who have sex with men] in a public arena. I couldn’t allow them to do that. The next time they do it they will face the full wrath of the law.”
It is evident that Lokodo and other powerful members of the Ugandan state are persistent in having the bill approved. The recent navigation of the bill highlights the detrimental effects of coercive power relations; driven by ‘maintaining’ a status shaped by the colonial rule. Arguably, this questions the integrity of these leaders, who are attempting to reintroduce a law that is ill-informed, and which perpetuates conditions shaped by colonialism instead of pursuing the progress of the country post-colonialism. Further, this brings into question the impact of the colonial rule in this context, and how the colonial remnants are and have been discounting the human rights of marginalized groups.
Maria Burnett of Humans Rights Watch (Africa division) told the Guardian that “Uganda’s LGBTI movement has made great strides in the demand for rights and remains strong. Lokodo’s threats won’t tarnish that. He has repeatedly disregarded his mandate fighting corruption, while maintaining an absurd obsession with people’s private lives.”
The United Nations responded to the bill’s developments in 2014, documenting that the former “Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appealed for the complete and universal decriminalization of homosexuality…stressing that human rights must always trump cultural attitudes and societal strictures.” The UN is yet to respond to the recent legislation announcement.
Transgender activist Javan (officially named Ronald Mugisha), told CNN, “as Ugandans we have the right to be who we are,” she said: “Ugandans [need to] start respecting LGBT people. These are your children, they are sisters, they are mothers, they are brothers. … Let’s not preach hate but preach love. Together we stand as the LGBT community in Uganda.”
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