Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni faced calls Wednesday from the United Nations and rights groups to reject an “appalling” anti-gay bill passed by parliament.
Ugandan lawmakers had late Tuesday approved the bill outlining harsh penalties for anyone who engages in same-sex activity after a chaotic near seven-hour session.
Homosexuality was already illegal in the conservative East African nation and it was not immediately clear what new penalties had been agreed.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk on Wednesday urged Museveni not to promulgate the bill into law.
“The passing of this discriminatory bill -– probably among the worst of its kind in the world –- is a deeply troubling development,” he said in a statement.
“If signed into law by the president, it will render lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Uganda criminals simply for existing, for being who they are. It could provide carte blanche for the systematic violation of nearly all of their human rights and serve to incite people against each other.”
Amnesty International also urged Museveni to reject the “appalling” legislation, describing it as a “grave assault” on LGBTQ people.
“This ambiguous, vaguely worded law even criminalises those who ‘promote’ homosexuality,” said Amnesty International’s east and southern Africa director, Tigere Chagutah.
Lawmakers amended significant portions of the original draft legislation with all but one speaking in favour of the bill.
MP Fox Odoi-Oywelowo, a member of Museveni’s National Resistance Movement party, who spoke against the bill, told AFP that offenders would face life imprisonment or even the death penalty for “aggravated” offences.
Amnesty said Museveni “must urgently veto this appalling legislation”, adding that it would “institutionalise discrimination, hatred, and prejudice” against the LGBTQ community.
The discussion about the bill in parliament has been laced with homophobic language and Museveni himself last week referred to gay people as “these deviants”.
– Intolerance of homosexuality –
Nevertheless, the 78-year-old veteran leader has consistently signalled he does not view the issue as a priority, and would prefer to maintain good relations with Western donors and investors.
Uganda is notorious for its intolerance of homosexuality, and the passage of the bill was welcomed by some.
“We are very happy as citizens of Uganda. Culturally we do not… accept homosexuality, lesbianism, LGBTQ. We cannot,” said local resident, 54-year-old Abdu Mukasa.
“We were created by God. God created man and woman. And we cannot accept one sex to go on the same sex.”
Homosexuality was criminalised in Uganda under colonial-era laws but since independence from Britain in 1962 there has never been a conviction for consensual same-sex activity.
In 2014, Ugandan lawmakers passed a bill that called for life in prison for people caught having gay sex.
A court later struck down the law on a technicality, but it had already sparked international condemnation, with some Western nations freezing or redirecting millions of dollars of government aid in response.
Last week, police said they had arrested six men for “practising homosexuality” in the southern lakeside town of Jinja.
Another six men were arrested on the same charge on Sunday, according to police.
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