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Africa

Ugandan president vetoes anti-gay bill but calls homosexuals 'abnormal'

© AFP

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by Thomas HUBERT

Latest update : 2014-01-18

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has refused to sign a controversial bill penalising homosexual acts into law, saying in a letter to parliament that he believes gays are “abnormal” people who should be “rescued”, not jailed.

In a letter to the speaker of Parliament quoted by the Daily Monitor newspaper on Friday, Museveni said he declined to enact the legislation passed by MPs last month.

The bill includes life imprisonment for homosexual acts and makes it a crime not to report gay people. A provision to impose the death penalty in some cases was removed from the final text.

“The question at the core of the debate on homosexuality is: what do we do with an abnormal person? Do we kill him/her? Do we imprison him/her? Or do we contain him/her?” Museveni was quoted as writing.

His spokesman Tamale Mirudi confirmed the presidential position to AFP. “The president says that these people are sick; you cannot kill a sick person. A person that has been found guilty of homosexual practices cannot be imprisoned for life,” he told the news agency.

Extracts from the president’s letter and comments by Mirudi emphasised Museveni’s disapproval of homosexuality. According to the Daily Monitor, the president added that in addition to the people who are "abnormal, it seems there is a group of those that become homosexual for 'mercenary reasons'—they get recruited on account of financial inducements."

He went on to say that the lesbians who did not fall into the previous categories were suffering from “sexual starvation” after failing to marry men.

Foreign policy implications

The presidential veto was no surprise to John Francis Onyango, a Ugandan lawyer who has defended gay rights in a number of court cases on behalf of the group Sexual Minorities Uganda.

“This has been a consistent position of the government,” he told FRANCE 24. “President Museveni and the prime minister understand the foreign policy implications of the bill.”

US President Barack Obama condemned the bill as “odious” when it was first proposed in 2010.

Mirudi denied that Museveni had been influenced by anyone, and extracts from the president’s letter accuse the West of spreading homosexuality.

According to French gay rights advocate Thomas Fouquet-Lapar, however, the result of Western influence in Africa has been the criminalisation of gays. Speaking on the FRANCE 24 Debate on Thursday, he said: “It’s the case in Uganda: the current homophobic law [dates] from colonisation, and the one that has now been adopted is heavily influenced by radical religious groups coming from Western countries, especially the US.”

Ugandan lawyer Onyango believes the presidential veto is only one more step, not the end of the anti-gay bill.

“The president has written to the speaker; under the Constitution, the speaker may make amendments,” he explained. After two vetoes, a two-thirds parliamentary majority may enact the legislation without the assent of the president.

Onyango said efforts to oppose the bill should not slacken. “It is a threat to the right to privacy, health, expression, and to the right of association. It would make it very easy to arrest and prosecute people on flimsy evidence, yet very difficult to prove a case,” he said, adding that gay rights advocates were now looking at options to launch a legal challenge to the bill.

The FRANCE 24 Debate: Africa's anti-gay backlash

 

Date created : 2014-01-17

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