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Uganda president won't sign anti-LGBT right bill — for now

April 20, 2023

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni did not sign into law a controversial bill against homosexuality that would prescribe the death penalty in some cases. He has called for minor changes to the proposed legislation.

A transgender Ugandan poses in front of a rainbow flag during the 3rd Annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride celebrations in Entebbe, Uganda
Same-sex relations are already illegal in the highly conservative and religious East African nation, where homophobia and anti-trans sentiment are deeply entrenchedImage: Rebecca Vassie/AP Photo/picture alliance

Draconian new anti-LGBT legislation passed by the Ugandan parliament went unsigned by President Yoweri Museveni on Thursday.

Museveni's decision was announced after a meeting of lawmakers in his ruling party to "discuss among other (things) the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023." Nearly all the members of his party support the bill that was approved by lawmakers last month.

The legislation, supported by nearly all of the 389 members of parliament who were present in the packed chamber last month, called for harsh penalties for anyone who engages in same-sex activity.

Key concern for LGBT 'rehabilitation' 

A spokesman for the president's office said Museveni was not opposed to the punishments proposed in the bill but wants lawmakers to look into "the issue of rehabilitation."

"[Museveni] told the members that he had no objections to the punishments but on the issue of rehabilitation of the persons who have in the past been engaged in homosexuality but would like to live normal lives again," spokesman Sandor Walusimbi said on Twitter without expanding on how an LBGT person's life is not normal.

During the meeting, Museveni condemned homosexuality, saying, "Europe is lost. So they also want us to be lost," according to footage released by public broadcaster UBC.

Museveni also praised lawmakers for approving the bill, which has drawn international condemnation.

"I congratulate you for that strong stand," he said in the video. "It is good that you rejected the pressure from the imperialists. And this is what I told them. Whenever they come to me, I say, 'You, please shut up.'"

Rights groups have said those engaging in same-sex activity could face life imprisonment while repeat offenders could be sentenced to death.

It also includes 20-year sentences for "promoting" homosexuality.

Uganda passes anti-homosexuality bill

Rights groups slam the legislation

International rights campaigners have slammed the bill.

Museveni, whose signature is required for the bill to become law, has faced calls to veto it.

The US last month warned Uganda of possible economic repercussions if the legislation takes effect.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk also urged Museveni not to promulgate the bill into law.

The latest legislation is similar to the 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.

Same-sex relations are already illegal in the highly conservative and religious East African nation, where homophobia and anti-trans sentiment are deeply entrenched.

But proponents of anti-LGBTQ measures say harsher legislation is needed to combat homosexuality and defend traditional family values.

European Parliament calls for pressure against Museveni

Also on Thursday, the European Parliament had issued a resolution condemning the bill, and urging the European Union to pressure Museveni against its implementation. 

"The resolution deplores President Museveni's contribution to the hateful rhetoric about LGBTIQ persons, adding that EU-Uganda relations will be at stake should the President sign the bill," a statement said.

The resolution was voted in with 416 votes in favor. But it does not oblige Brussels to take action.

sms, sri/jcg (AFP, Reuters)