Both Britain and Canada’s prime ministers have told President Yoweri Museveni that a proposed law that would result in homosexuals in Uganda being imprisoned for life or even executed needs to be withdrawn.
The proposed legislation has created a furore in Western countries with protesters saying it contravenes international human rights legislation.
Both British leader Gordon Brown and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper are understood to have told President Museveni that the legislation was unacceptable when they met with Uganda’s leader over a private breakfast meeting at the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit that finished on Monday (November 30).
Although homosexuality remains a crime in many Commonwealth countries, few have proposed as draconian new legislation as that currently being debated in Kampala.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 is going through Uganda’s Parliament after receiving its first reading last month.
According to Clause 2 of the Bill, a person who is convicted of gay sex is liable to life imprisonment.
But if that person is also HIV positive the penalty — under the heading “aggravated homosexuality” — is death.
The Bill is not an official piece of legislation from the Ugandan government but it has allowed it to proceed, and some top officials are said to have supported it.
“If adopted, a Bill further criminalising homosexuality would constitute a significant step backwards for the protection of human rights in Uganda,” a Canadian government spokesperson said.
The Bill proposes a three-year prison sentence for anyone who is aware of evidence of homosexuality and fails to report it to the police within 24 hours.
It would also impose a sentence of up to seven years for anyone who defends the rights of homosexuals.
Mockery of principles
Addressing the Commonwealth People’s Forum, Stephen Lewis, the former UN envoy on Aids in Africa, said that the Bill made a mockery of Commonwealth principles.
“Nothing is as stark, punitive and redolent of hate as the Bill in Uganda.”
In the UK, so strong is the level of protest that there have been calls either for British aid to Kampala to be halted or for Uganda to be suspended from the Commonwealth until the legislation is withdrawn.
Meanwhile, despite concerns over its human rights record, Rwanda has been admitted to the Commonwealth at the summit in Trinidad and Tobago.
It was only the second country to be admitted without a British colonial past or constitutional link to Britain.
A Rwandan minister said the move showed his country’s “tremendous progress” over the last 15 years.
Mozambique is the other Commonwealth member without historic UK ties.
It joined the 54 member state organisation 14 years ago
A report in July by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) urged Rwanda to tackle a lack of political freedom and harassment of journalists before it was admitted.
It also articulated deep reservations over the country’s human rights record.
“CHRI acknowledges that Rwanda has what appears to be a well-deserved reputation for governmental efficiency and for being less corrupt than a number of other countries — but its claims about the lack of corruption appear hollow when considering its complicity in the illicit economy of the region,” the report said.
Rwanda expressed its desire to join the Commonwealth in 2008, despite its historic association with Francophone countries.