International Outcry Over Proposed Ugandan Anti-Gay Law

A law under consideration by Ugandan authorities to criminalize homosexual behavior and punish it with severe penalties is drawing fire from the international human rights community, gay-rights advocates and Western governments.

“Certain provisions in this bill are illegal; they are also immoral. They criminalize a sector of society for being who they are, when what the government should be doing instead is protecting them from discrimination and abuse,” Kate Sheill, an Amnesty International sexual rights expert, said in a press release.

Officials from countries including the U.S., the U.K., Canada and France have publicly opposed the law. Rights groups were urging heads of state to raise the issue at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting that Ugandan President Yoweri Musevini was scheduled to chair last Friday, Nov. 27.

The Ugandan penal code already criminalizes sexual relations “against the order of nature,” a characterization that is frequently used to prosecute gays. Under the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009, homosexual relations are specifically targeted. Anyone in a position of authority who is aware of a gay or lesbian individual has 24 hours to inform police or face jail time. Individuals found to engage in efforts to sexually stimulate another for the purpose of homosexual relations, or found touching another for that purpose, will face life in prison.

Those who engage in “aggravated homosexuality” — defined as repeated homosexual relations or sexual contact with others who are HIV/AIDS infected — will face the death penalty.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission warned that the law will not only drive the gay community further underground, but have ripple effects across other sectors of Ugandan society.

“HIV prevention activities in Uganda, which rely on an ability to talk frankly about sexuality and provide condoms and other safer-sex materials, will be seriously compromised. Women, sex workers, people living with AIDS, and other marginalized groups may also find their activities tracked and criminalized through this bill,” the group said in a recent public announcement.