Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. | WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
The release last week of a letter that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni sent to Parliament criticizing irregularities in the way it approved a draconian anti-gay bill late last year led many news outlets to report that the measure had been vetoed.
At a January 21 press conference, however, a coalition of Ugandan health and civil liberties groups warned that Museveni had not formally rejected the bill and that if it or a similar version were approved, the results could be dire.
Voice of America quoted Alice Kayongo of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation saying, “I imagine having someone come to me requesting condoms, and I say I am unable to provide them. And yet I know that condoms will probably prevent this person from either passing on HIV or acquiring HIV. So for me to say no to someone because I fear that I could be branded as a promoter of homosexuality, it just makes no sense to me.”
The Ugandan measure, abruptly approved in Parliament on December 19 more than four years after it was initially proposed, would mandate life imprisonment for those repeatedly convicted of prohibited same-sex conduct. According to the Daily Monitor, a Ugandan newspaper, the category of behaviors that could lead to a life sentence include “oral and anal penetration, genital stimulation, and even touching with the intent to engage in those acts.” The promotion of homosexuality and the failure to report knowledge of same-sex activity are also criminalized by the bill.
In its original form, the measure included the death penalty for repeated homosexual conduct, but that was not a part of the bill approved in December.
Museveni’s letter noted the fact that the nation’s prime minister, Amama Mbabazi, complained at the time of the vote that the body lacked the required quorum to move forward.
“How can you pass law without the quorum of Parliament after it has been pointed out?,” Museveni wrote, according to the Monitor. “What sort of Parliament is this? How can Parliament be the one to break the Constitution and the Law repeatedly?”
The letter was dated December 27.
The Ugandan president, however, made clear that he shares the anti-gay attitudes of the bill’s promoters.
“The question at the core of the debate of homosexuality is: what do we do with an abnormal person?,” he wrote. “Do we kill him/ her? Do we imprison him/ her? Or we do contain him/ her?”
Museveni also argued that legislation, no matter how harsh, would not stamp out homosexuality in Uganda.
“Even with legislation, they will simply go underground and continue practicing homosexuality or lesbianism for mercenary reasons,” he wrote. Young people in Uganda, Museveni argued, are lured into gay sex work due to lack of alternative opportunities. Economic development and industrialization are needed to combat that problem, he wrote.
Voice of America reported that the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights learned directly from Museveni that he intended to veto the bill. But Nicholas Opiyo of the civil liberties group Chapter Four Uganda told the news service that the president had likely not even received the final draft of the measure and would then have 30 days to act.