By: Wendy O. Osefo
Homosexuality has a long-standing stigma in the African community. Depending on whom you ask, you will surely find that there is an eclectic mix of emotion and opinion on the topic. Ranging from those individuals who dismiss its existence in entirety, or those who label it as a psychological disorder.
Despite an individual’s stance on the topic, homosexuality, like heterosexuality is practiced both in the states and abroad. In the African nations of Tunisia and Algeria, homosexuality is not only illegal, but also punishable by up to three years imprisonment. While the punishments administered by both Tunisia and Algeria are arguably human rights violations, they take a backseat to the proposed punishment set forth by Uganda.
Today, Uganda’s parliament is set to debate the controversial anti-homosexuality bill. In its original form, the bill proposes the death penalty for all those found to be gay and lesbian. The anti-homosexuality bill was first proposed in 2009, but did not reach the floors of parliament until last week.
However, on Wednesday, May 11th, the debate over the bill was delayed when female legislators walked out in reaction to an unrelated bill parliament was discussing. David Bahati, the author of the highly controversial bill has stated that a new version of the bill will not contain the death penalty. In spite of this claim, the public has yet to see the amended version of the bill. Under the 2009 version of the anti-homosexuality bill, criminalization of same-sex relationships will be broadened. This includes, but is not limited to:
- The death penalty for repeat convictions (“serial offenders”).
- Active homosexuals living with HIV will face capital punishment.
- Anyone convicted of homosexual acts will face life imprisonment.
- Ugandan citizens would be required to report any homosexual activity within 24 hours or face a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment.
Furthermore, if a Ugandan citizen were having same-sex relationships outside the country, they would face extradition. If adopted, the anti-homosexuality bill would have both grave and nefarious effects on Uganda’s human rights protection.
An online petition in opposition of the bill has soared with over 1 million signatures. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have pegged the bill as “deeply alarming”. The current climate for gays and lesbians in Uganda is ghastly. Gays and lesbians face constant discrimination and harassment at the hand of the police and media. Last year, a tabloid newspaper in Uganda published the names and photos of alleged gay men. Shortly after this publication, David Kato, a prominent gay rights activist was bludgeoned to death.
Protestors and human rights officials are imploring parliament to reject the bill or for Uganda’s president to veto it if it passes. Whatever decision comes from today’s debate, will result in a landmark decision and surely become national headlines. Uganda, the world awaits your decision and we hope it is one that will not cause the country to take steps backwards.