Uganda: Museveni distances himself from "cruel" anti-gay bill


Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has indicated he will not back a bill that would impose the death sentence for the crime of "aggravated homosexuality" - when an HIV-positive person has sex with anyone who is disabled or under the age of 18. Museveni appears to have bowed to international pressure, telling members of his ruling National Resistance Movement that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had all urged him to ensure the controversial bill does not go ahead.
"I told them that this bill was brought up by a private member and I have not even had time to discuss it with him; it is neither the government nor the NRM Party," he told party members during a meeting on 13 January, according to local media. "This is a foreign policy issue and we have to discuss it in a manner that does not compromise our principles but also takes care of our foreign policy interests."

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill (2009) - introduced as a private member's bill by ruling party MP David Bahati in October 2009 - would also force people accused of aggravated homosexuality to undergo HIV tests, and would impose prison sentences or heavy fines on members of the public who fail to report homosexual activity.

Bahati said he looked forward to discussions with Museveni that would result in a version of the Bill that would accommodate international interests while not compromising Uganda's "internal principles".

Rights groups and health workers have expressed relief that the bill now seems unlikely to be passed in its current form. "I have always known that this Bill cannot be passed; if it is passed it will affect our international relations, but it is also a very cruel Bill," said Frank Mugisha, chairman of the gay rights organization, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG).

"Even without the Bill, the gay community operates from underground; we service providers were afraid, but now we know that the Bill will be debated and improved," said Janeva Busingye, coordinator of the Ministry of Health's Most at Risk Populations Initiative. 

Men who have sex with men have been identified as a population at high risk of contracting and transmitting HIV, but they have never been included in Uganda's national HIV/AIDS response, mainly because of existing laws outlawing homosexuality; a 2009 Modes of Transmission study recommended that legal impediments to their inclusion in the response be reviewed.

14 January 2010 (PlusNews)