May 13, 2011 – After two years of dangerous discussion, the current parliamentary session in Uganda closed today without a vote on the “anti-homosexuality” bill. The coordinator of the civil society coalition opposing the bill, Adrian Jjuuko, put it this way: “The Ugandan parliament has closed today. . . . Thus the Anti-Homosexuality Bill has to be reintroduced in the new parliament and the whole process to begin all over again. Thank you all for the efforts and solidarity in fighting this ominous bill. The struggle may have to begin all over again, but for now, the process is over.”
Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill was introduced in 2009. It was an affront to the lives and dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Ugandans and a threat to democracy and human rights throughout the country. Indeed, it was the most extreme attempt by any country anywhere to criminalize same-sex relations and relationships, even imposing the death penalty in certain cases. It also would have criminalized those who provide assistance to LGBT citizens, including medical professionals, family members, pastors or civil society organizations that support the fundamental rights of the country’s LGBT community.
A broad coalition of human rights leaders in Uganda came together to denounce the bill, insisting that it was a backward-looking attempt to divert attention away from growing civil unrest in the country, and from the alarming violence unleashed by the authorities in recent weeks to suppress peaceful protests. Uganda’s own Human Rights Commission called the bill unconstitutional and inconsistent with the country’s human rights obligations.
The bill could be introduced in the next parliament, which convenes later this month. And although never adopted, the debate around it has already created an atmosphere of extreme hostility and led to acts of targeted violence against LGBT citizens. But for now, the brave civil society leaders who stood up to oppose the bill should take pride in their work to protect human rights for all Ugandans. We are also grateful for the committed response of U.S. foreign policy leaders in the White House, the State Department and Congress who have engaged in a dialogue with Ugandan authorities for nearly two years to highlight the harms caused by this proposal.