A US gay rights lobby that sought to pressure politicians here to be more accepting to same-sex relationships left a disappointed lot last week after a string of meetings yielded no guarantees that the Anti-homosexuality bill would be dropped or even amended.
The delegation from the Robert F. Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights, led by Kerry Kennedy, held meetings with President Museveni, the First Lady and Minister for Karamoja, Janet Museveni, as well as MPs.
The Observer has learnt that in one of the meetings, the group argued that the controversial draft legislation doesn’t meet the benchmarks of international human rights and contravenes some international human rights charters that Uganda has ratified.
In a meeting with Janet Museveni at State House, Entebbe, on March 20, the First Lady made it clear to the delegation that the essence of the bill is not to persecute homosexuals, noting that Ugandans don’t necessarily kill them although adding that they are not admired either. This same message was reiterated by President Museveni.The Americans, however, got the harshest feedback from MPs.
“We already have enough laws that meet international standards and some of them penalise same-sex marriage and when we go by the Bible which I glorify, sodomy is punishable. So, we don’t want to go against African culture and at the same time act contrary to God’s commandments because whites want it,” Alice Alaso [Serere Woman] told the group.
She added: “You (Westerners) have imposed on us enough of your bad practices, right from guns, and we shall not allow homosexuality in Uganda because the Bible forbids it.”
Alaso made her stinging remarks during the stormy meeting between the delegation and members of Parliament’s committee on Human Rights. The Anti-Homosexuality bill was referred to this committee after its chairperson, Jovah Kamateeka (Mitooma Woman), asked Speaker Rebecca Kadaga to let her committee scrutinise it for purposes of adherence to human rights.
Bujenje MP Kabakumba Masiko Labwoni told the gay rights activists during their interface with the committee that Parliament would not make a law that doesn’t suit Uganda’s culture.
“You can’t impose on us issues that are against our culture, and it is prohibited for you to come here and start promoting homosexuality,” said the former minister of Information and National Guidance.
On her part, People with Disabilities Female MP, Safia Nalule Juuko, asked the activists: “May I know whether you have seen anything good about this practice (homosexuality) that you can share with us?”
In her response, the group’s team leader, Kerry Kennedy, expressed appreciation for the passionate concerns of the lawmakers and was apologetic to those who could have been hurt by their mission.
“According to what we have heard from almost all of you members, we must have hurt you. We are very sorry about it. We didn’t expect to meet a group of people because we had wanted to meet a few of you,” she said.
Kamateeka told The Observer shortly after this closed-door meeting on March 21 that “these people want us to further scrutinise the bill in order to suit the international standards, and we just reaffirmed what the president told them that in Uganda, we don’t discriminate against or persecute the gay.”
The Observer has been told that the delegation also privately met Ndorwa West MP David Bahati, the bill’s main sponsor, as well as Bugweri MP Abdu Katuntu.
Speaking about the meeting, Katuntu said: “I have had a meeting with the delegation in my capacity as shadow Attorney General. They wanted to know [about some of the thorny] clauses of the bill, but I told them that the bill is unstoppable.”
Asked why he thinks the bill is “unstoppable”, Katuntu said: “I told them it is unstoppable because it is very popular in the committee, Parliament and the public. So, no one has the capacity to drop it unless its mover wishes so. But Bahati is not ready to do it.”
On his part, Bahati said: “It is true we met with a group of human rights activists, and they wanted to get more information about the bill. I frankly told them that the bill focuses on stopping the promotion of homosexuality, stopping the funding of homosexuality, stopping the inducement of children into homosexuality and operationalising the prohibition of same-sex marriage [as] stipulated in the constitution.”
DAVID TASH LUMU & DEO WALUSIMBI