The legislation – known as the ‘Kill the Gays’ bill – was nullified five years ago on a technicality, but the government now has plans to resurrect it within weeks.
‘Homosexuality is not natural to Ugandans, but there has been a massive recruitment by gay people in schools, and especially among the youth, where they are promoting the falsehood that people are born like that,’ Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo said.
‘Our current penal law is limited. It only criminalises the act. We want it made clear that anyone who is even involved in promotion and recruitment has to be criminalised. Those that do grave acts will be given the death sentence.’
African countries like Uganda have some of the world’s most prohibitive laws governing homosexuality. Same-sex relationships are considered taboo and gay sex is a crime across most of the continent, with punishments ranging from imprisonment to death.
Earlier this year, Brunei sparked an international outcry over plans to impose the death penalty for gay sex, backtracking only after intense criticism.
Lokodo said Uganda’s bill, which is supported by President Yoweri Museveni, will be reintroduced in parliament in the coming weeks, and it is expected to be voted on before the end of the year.
He was optimistic it would pass with the necessary two-thirds of members present – a shortfall in numbers killed a similar bill in 2014 – as the government had lobbied legislators ahead of its re-introduction.
‘We have been talking to the MPs and we have mobilised them in big numbers,’ said Lokodo. ‘Many are supportive.’
Uganda’s constitutional court overturned the law – formerly known as the ‘Kill the Gays’ bill because it includes the death penalty – on a technicality in 2014.
Even without it, under British colonial law, gay sex is punishable with up to life imprisonment and activists said the new bill risked unleashing attacks.
‘Bringing back anti-gay legislation would invariably lead to a spike in discrimination and atrocities,’ said Zahra Mohamed of the Toronto-based charity Stephen Lewis Foundation.
Moves to restrict LGBT+ rights and criminalise gay sex in other countries have sparked protests and sanctions.
In May, Brunei was forced to extend a moratorium on the death penalty for gay sex after celebrities such as actor George Clooney condemned a law allowing whipping and stoning to death.
Last November, anti-gay remarks by a senior official in Tanzania led to the east African nation’s second biggest donor, Denmark, withholding $10 million in aid.
Uganda faced widespread international condemnation when the previous bill was signed off by Museveni in 2014.
The United States reduced aid, imposed visa restrictions and cancelled military exercises. The World Bank, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands also suspended or redirected aid.
Lokodo said Uganda was prepared for any negative response.
‘It is a concern,’ he said. But we are ready. We don’t like blackmailing. Much as we know that this is going to irritate our supporters in budget and governance, we can’t just bend our heads and bow before people who want to impose a culture which is foreign to us.’
Pepe Julian Onziema from Sexual Minorities Uganda, an alliance of LGBT+ organisations, said its members were fearful of the bill.
‘When the law was introduced last time, it whipped up homophobic sentiment and hate crimes,’ said Onziema.
‘Hundreds of LGBT+ people have been forced to leave the country as refugees and more will follow if this law is enacted. It will criminalise us from even advocated for LGBT+ rights, let alone supporting and protecting sexual minorities.’