A new hope is emerging that the legislative session for Uganda’s parliament will expire before lawmakers take action on a draconian anti-gay bill amid new developments related to the legislation on Friday in various parts of the world.
LGBT advocates had previously said the parliament as soon as this week would take up the anti-gay legislation, which would institute a sentence of life prison for homosexual acts and perhaps in some cases the death penalty. The bill would also prohibit the promotion of LGBT rights and fine or jail certain individuals who neglect to report gay people to the authorities.
However, those fears were abated after Parliament Speaker Kadaga Rebecca reportedly suspended sessions this week after a raucous that broke out over an unrelated bill about authority on petroleum agreements.
Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, said parliament may come into session again at the start next week, but the oil bill and not the anti-gay bill would likely be the first order the business.
“The parliament is still suspended,” Bromley said. “My understanding is the speaker asked for a report on the raucous two days and that report should go to her on Monday, so I think there’s a chance the parliament might come back into session on Monday, and if so, the expectation is that they will continue with the oil bill, which is still quite contentious and could take up a certain amount time.”
LGBT advocates had been hoping the legislative session for the Ugandan parliament would expire on Dec. 14 before lawmakers have an opportunity to take up the anti-gay bill. Kadaga, a supporter of the legislation, has said Uganda wants to see the legislation passed as a Christmas present.
Bromley expressed hope that these difficulties facing the parliament may mean the legislature won’t take action on the anti-gay bill.
“It’s dangerous to predict anything and certainly the bill is dangerous enough and popular enough that we shouldn’t let our guard down,” Bromley said. “But I think given the intense debate and some of the procedural hurdles that still remain in front of the anti-homosexuality bill, I think there is at least a hope that it could be delayed until after the holiday, which would advocates on the ground and elsewhere more time to really try to make a persuasive case for the parliament to drop the bill altogether.”
Bahati quoted as saying death penalty removed, but report meets skepticism
Perhaps the most noteworthy development on Friday was a report from the Associated Press in which David Bahati, the author of the legislation, asserted the controversial death penalty provision had been removed from the bill.
Parliamentarian David Bahati said the bill, which is expected to be voted on next month, had “moved away from the death penalty after considering all the issues that have been raised.”
“There is no death penalty,” he told The Associated Press.
Bahati said the bill now focuses on protecting children from gay pornography, banning gay marriage, counseling gays, as well as punishing those who promote gay culture. Jail terms are prescribed for various offenses, he said, offering no details. The most recent version of the bill hasn’t been publicly released.
In response to an inquiry from the Washington Blade, Hillary Renner, a State Department spokesperson for African affairs, said she’s unable to confirm the death penalty was dropped and referred to the Uganda government from more information.
“With or without the inclusion of the death penalty, we have made clear on numerous occasions that the United States opposes the anti-homosexuality bill,” Renner added. “The bill is currently in committee and has not reached the full parliament for consideration. As with all domestic legislation, it is up to the Ugandan parliament to determine whether to approve this bill.”
Box Turtle Bulletin’s Jim Burroway took issue with reporting and — in a blog post titled “AP Is Wrong: Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill Still Has The Death Penalty” — warned readers not to believe the report because the only full parliament has the authority to change the bill. Earlier this week, a source at the U.S. embassy in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, told the Blade the committee doesn’t have authority to change the bill or remove its death penalty and can only make recommendations for the full parliament to consider.
Andre Banks, executive director and co-founder of All Out, a grassroots organization in the United States drawing attention to the anti-gay bill, was among those expressing skepticism that the death penalty provision has in fact been removed.
“David Bahati is one of the architects of Uganda’s anti-gay bill,” Banks said. “Bahati told the AP the death penalty was removed from the bill, yet no one has actually seen the latest version of the bill to confirm Bahati’s claim, Until we see the bill, and it has moved out of a committee that actually has the power to make substantive changes, we must assume the worst.”
Germany suspends foreign aid to Uganda for structural assistance
Another news development took place in Germany where Dirk Niebel, the country’s minister of Economic Cooperation & Development, reportedly said it is suspending foreign aid for Uganda for three years as result of reports of misuse of 13 million euros in foreign funds.
German funds weren’t affected, and other concerns, such as the misuse of funds and violence in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, are the reason. Nonetheless Niebel cites the anti-homosexuality bill as a reason for concern.
Via Google Translate, Niebel is quoted as saying, “We are concerned that the debate about a tightening of legislation against homosexuals in Uganda resurgence Who fired the debate in Uganda, know the needs that he so the international image of the country causing damage Should human rights discrimination in.. Ugandan Parliament be adopted, it could not remain without consequences for our cooperation.”
Bromley clarified these cuts are related to structural assistance only and wouldn’t affect certain programs.
“My understanding is that the German government decided to cut direct structural assistance from Germany to the government to the government of Uganda, but that their investments in development and other programs will continue,” Bromley said. “So, it’s not an across-the-board cut, but it’s a temporary suspension of direct structural assistance to the government.”
Britain, Sweden and the European Union have also threatened to cut foreign aid from Uganda directly as result of the anti-gay bill if it’s passed into law. U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Scott DeLisi was quoted in a Uganda paper as saying foreign aid won’t be cut to Uganda as a result of the reported misuse of funds, but the United States hasn’t weighed in on cuts as a result of the anti-gay legislation.
Citi, Barclays respond to calls for them to condemn anti-gay bill
Two financial institutions with significant investments in Uganda have also weighed in on the anti-gay petition, although advocates who were seeking statements from the companies say a greater public outcry is needed.
David Roskin, a Citi spokesperson, delivered the response to the Blade via email in response to Change.org petition asking Citibank – as well as Barclays — to speak out publicly against the legislation. As of Friday, the online petition had more than 513,000 signatures.
“While the laws and cultural norms in some countries where Citi operates differ from commonly accepted global standards for human rights, Citi supports equality without regard for race, gender, disability, age, nationality, sexual orientation, or other personal characteristics,” Roskin said.
The response makes no direct mention of the anti-gay bill in Uganda. Asked in a follow-up email whether this response mean Citi opposes the anti-gay Uganda legislation, Roskin referred to earlier his statement.
A Change.org statement published on Friday also includes a statement from Barclays saying the company is “engaging at appropriate levels of the Ugandan government” with respect to the anti-gay legislation.
“Barclays has a strong history of supporting all aspects of diversity, both in the workplace and in wider society. Equally, we are proud of playing our part in the development of economies across Africa, and the key role Barclays plays in the lives of millions of our African customers.”
“Barclays is aware of the proposed legislation relating to homosexuality in Uganda and we are engaging at appropriate levels of the Ugandan Government to express our views.”
According to Change.org, Citibank has almost $300 million in assets invested in Uganda and is a major leader in a U.S. Chamber of Commerce based in Kampala. Barclays, Uganda’s third largest bank, has more than 1,000 employees and 51 branches throughout the country.
Collin Burton, a Citibank customer who launched the petition, rebuked the companies for the response — calling the Citi statement “dismissive” and “contradictory” — and said the company needs to come out more explicitly against the legislation.
“I’m disappointed that Citi delivered a dismissive statement that is not only contradictory in its very nature, but also serves as a reminder that Citi’s refusal to speak boldly on the issue poses a very real and dangerous threat to LGBT Ugandans, many of whom are also Citi customers,” Burton said. “I encourage Citibank and Barclays officials to live the values of equality outlined in their non-discrimination policies and courageously come out in staunch opposition to the Ugandan ’Kill The Gays’ Bill. Their corporate voices will positively amplify those of the over 500,000 global citizens who have already spoken out by signing the petition.”
Asked whether he’ll continue to bank at Citi, Burton replied, “I’ll make that decision based upon the final outcome of our efforts.”