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UN human rights chief urges Uganda to shelve “draconian” law on homosexuality

GENEVA (15 January 2010) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Friday urged the Ugandan government to shelve a “draconian” draft bill on homosexuality that is due to be put before the Ugandan parliament later in January, saying it would bring the country into a direct collision with established international human rights standards aimed at preventing discrimination.
 
She welcomed recent statements by the President and other senior members of the Government, suggesting it might intervene to stop the private member’s bill from becoming law.
 
The so-called ‘Anti-Homosexuality Bill,’ tabled by one member of parliament but believed to be supported by a number of others, prohibits any form of sexual relations between people of the same sex, as well as the promotion or recognition of homosexual relations as a healthy or acceptable lifestyle in public institutions.

“The bill proposes draconian punishments for people alleged to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered – namely life imprisonment or, in some cases, the death penalty,” Pillay said. “It is extraordinary to find legislation like this being proposed more than 60 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – as well as many subsequent international laws and standards – made it clear this type of discrimination is unacceptable.”

The draft bill also includes a provision that could lead to a prison sentence of up to three years for anyone who fails to report within 24 hours the identities of any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered individual they know – including members of their own family – or who overtly supports the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered people.

The High Commissioner said the bill clearly breaches international human rights standards, as it is “blatantly discriminatory,” adding that, if passed, the bill would have “a tremendously negative impact on the enjoyment of a range of fundamental human rights by homosexuals, lesbians and transgendered individuals, as well as on parents, teachers, landlords, human rights defenders, medical professionals and HIV workers.”
 
“I would like to remind the Ugandan Government of the country’s obligations under international human rights law,” Pillay said. “Uganda is a party to the core human rights treaties and has generally had a good track record of cooperation with the various international human rights mechanisms. This bill threatens to seriously damage the country's reputation in the international arena.”  She noted that the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights also contains strong language against discrimination.  
 
The High Commissioner said she was “encouraged” by the fact that a number of Ugandan civil society organizations were actively opposing the bill, and by the recent statement by President Museveni, reported in the Ugandan press, which appeared to suggest the Government would intervene to prevent the draft bill from becoming law. “This is the only responsible course of action for a government to take in such circumstances,” she said.
 
She also urged the Government, once it has dealt with the current bill, to begin the process of repealing existing Ugandan laws that criminalize homosexuality, albeit with less severe punishments.
 
“To criminalize people on the basis of colour or gender is now unthinkable in most countries,” Pillay said. “The same should apply to an individual's sexual orientation. International human rights standards strongly suggest that the State should not dictate the nature of private consensual relations between adults.”
 
The High Commissioner said she was also concerned that, in Malawi, a gay couple who were engaged to be married were being prosecuted and had been denied bail by the court.