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Uganda's parliament passes tough new anti-LGBTQ bill

March 21, 2023

The East African country already has some of the most draconian anti-LGBTQ legislation in the world. The new law makes offenses connected to same-sex relations punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Uganda Gay Pride
Uganda has had muted LGBTQ pride celebrations in the pastImage: Rebecca Vassie/AP Photo/picture alliance

Ugandan lawmakers on Tuesday passed  a bill that will criminalize identifying as LGBTQ, handing authorities broad powers to target a minority that already faces legal discrimination.

The legislation was supported by nearly all of the 389 members of parliament who were present in the packed chamber.

The bill now will go to President Yoweri Museveni, who can veto or sign it into law.

What does the bill entail?

The bill, introduced earlier this month, proposes tough new penalties against sexual minorities.

Under the legislation, anyone who engages in "same-sex activity" or who identifies as LGBTQ could face up to 10 years' imprisonment.

"The homosexuals are deviations from normal. Why? Is it by nature or nurture? We need to answer these questions," President Museveni said when MPs asked him to comment on the bill.

The law aims to allow Uganda to fight what it perceives as "threats to the traditional, heterosexual family."

Uganda passes anti-homosexuality bill

Homophobia and anti-trans sentiment are deeply entrenched in the highly conservative and religious East African nation, with same-sex romantic relationships punishable by up to life imprisonment.

More than 30 African countries have similar statutes, but Uganda's law, if passed, would be the first to criminalize merely identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ), according to Human Rights Watch.

It also criminalizes what it calls the "promotion" of homosexuality and "abetting" and "conspiring" to engage in same-sex relations.

Ugandan LGBT refugees pose in a protected section of Kakuma refugee camp in northwest Kenya. They fled Uganda following the anti-gay law brought in 2014..
Lawmakers in Uganda have voted on anti-gay billImage: Sally Hayden/ZUMA/imago images

Strong condemnation from rights groups

The bill has drawn sharp criticism from human rights organizations.

The law is similar to one passed in 2013 that stiffened some already-existing penalties and criminalized lesbian relationships. It drew intense international outrage for originally proposing to punish homosexuality with the death penalty. This was later revised to life in prison.

However, it was quickly struck down by a domestic court on procedural grounds.

According to Oryem Nyeko, a researcher at Human Rights Watch in Uganda, "One of the most extreme features of this new bill is that it criminalizes people simply for being who they are, as well as further infringing on the rights to privacy, and freedoms of expression and association that are already compromised in Uganda."

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dmn/es (AFP, Reuters)