Anti-Gay Bill In Uganda Described As Draconian
LYNN NEARY, host:
I'm Lynn Neary, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.
Coming up, a few thoughts on why Tiger Woods' apology has many in the media saying too little, too late. But first, human rights groups are in an uproar after a pastor in Uganda reportedly played gay pornography in church. He claimed it was an effort to drum-up support for a proposed anti-homosexuality bill in his country. Homosexuality is illegal in many African countries, and gay men and women in Uganda can already serve up to 14 years in jail for engaging in homosexual acts. But human rights groups in Uganda and around the world say this bill represents a draconian step that could lead to prison for gays, their family members and friends.
If passed, the bill could enable authorities to jail or, in some cases, execute gay people, and also incarcerate those who fail to report homosexual activities. President Obama is among the international leaders who have criticized Uganda's proposed law, calling it odious during the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this month. The Ugandan parliament is expected to consider the bill in just a few weeks.
Joining us now is Ugandan activist, Julius Kaggwa. He came to Washington to attend the recent 2010 Human Rights Summit and hopes to speak with congressional leaders this week about mobilizing action against the bill. Julius, thanks so much for joining us.
Mr. JULIUS KAGGWA (Human Rights Activist): Thank you.
NEARY: Julius, this bill has shocked a lot of people in the West. Perhaps you could just remind us a little bit more about what is being proposed here that the people have reacted to so strongly.
Mr. KAGGWA: Well, the bill seeks to tighten punishment for homosexual Ugandans. As you're well aware, we already have a Penal Code in place, which criminalizes homosexual acts. But this bill defines homosexuality in such a broad fashion that it puts all Ugandan citizens at risk. What I mean by this is it defines intent to commit a homosexual act. You and I know that intent is something that you really cannot determine. It also seeks to criminalize anybody in authority - in a place of authority who has information about homosexual Ugandans. Now this includes parents. It includes teachers. It includes landlords. It includes priests who do not volunteer information on homosexual Ugandans within 24 hours, who would be liable to imprisonment. And it also proposes the punishment of death for HIV-positive homosexual Ugandans.
NEARY: Now, let me just get a clarification. Any HIV-positive homosexual in Uganda could be put to death? For what? Why would the...
Mr. KAGGWA: That's right. If convicted of repeated offences.
NEARY: And also, just to go back just a moment earlier, you were saying that people could be imprisoned, perhaps, just for intent. In other words, you're saying that certain forms of affection might be misinterpreted...
Mr. KAGGWA: That's right.
NEARY: ...as a homosexual act, could be possible, you think, under this bill.
Mr. KAGGWA: This is why our civil society is greatly, greatly concerned about this bill, because it gives great room for blackmail, for witch-hunting. I mean, because intent can be interpreted anyways, you know. If I have a male friend who comes over to my house for a couple of days and I'm not married, that could be interpreted as an intent to commit a homosexual act because you cannot know for sure what people do behind closed doors.
NEARY: As I understand it, the parliament is expected to take this bill up, to start considering it again. Have there been some efforts to soften some of the language in the bill, or not?
Mr. KAGGWA: Yes, there's been an incredible media presence by the Civil Society Coalition, which consists of 26 mainstream human rights organizations. Organizations in this coalition are not gay organizations at all. You know, they're mainstream human rights organizations. But what we are trying to note is that this is not a homosexual issue. It is beyond homosexuality. It is about families. It's about trust. It's about driving critical populations underground. It's about health issues. And as a result of this, you know, outcry, there's been talk of amendments, certain amendments, such as the withdrawal of the death penalty.
It hasn't been done, but there are talks around this kind of amendments. But this is far from enough. The entire bill is draconian. It's terrible.
NEARY: So you don't want the bill passed at all? Not at all.
Mr. KAGGWA: We, as the Civil Society Coalition, demand that it is withdrawn in its entirety.
NEARY: What is like to be homosexual in Uganda now, even before this bill is passed?
Mr. KAGGWA: I mean, its been a hard draw for homosexual Ugandans. I know some homosexual people who have been victims of blackmail and of some lesbians who have been victims of corrective rape. I know...
NEARY: Corrective rape, did you just say?
Mr. KAGGWA: Yeah, yes.
NEARY: Meaning what?
Mr. KAGGWA: You know, relatives - male relatives who rape lesbians to correct their sexuality. So...
NEARY: Thinking that that's somehow going to...
Mr. KAGGWA: Exactly, that they need to put them in their right place, to show them what women do. Theyve been raped and, as a result of that sadly, I must say, some of them have contracted HIV. Now, they cannot access appropriate information or treatment for this. With this bill, which threatens to strip homosexual Ugandans of their citizenship, of their personhood, what we are talking about is that theres going to be an extinction of the population. I have gay friends. Im not ashamed to that. I mean, if the bill passes Im in trouble because then Ill have to hand them in...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. KAGGWA: ...which I wouldnt do. But I have seen firsthand a lot of suffering, a lot of homelessness. And this is not just done by the state. Theres a lot of homophobia causally in the society. Theres this religious convictions that take, you know, homosexuals as deviants. And life has been quite hard.
NEARY: What can the international community still do to affect the outcome? Can they do anything at this point?
Mr. KAGGWA: Yeah, I mean, what we didnt want and I would say we still dont want is to have the international voices louder than our own voices. But we really want them alongside our own. Why also because the bill concerns everybody. Its not even just about Ugandans. When you read it, you know, it will concern you as an American coming to Uganda. If youre sympathetic to a homosexual, I mean, it places you in danger.
NEARY: Is there any concern that any sort of involvement by the international community could make things worse for homosexuals in Uganda?
Mr. KAGGWA: There is. One of the arguments that is being used by the people that proposed this bill is that homosexuality is a Western import. And so, we have just been asking our international allies and human rights activists to maintain the human rights aspect of this and to read the bill and interpret it along those lines. You know, the homosexual battle will be fought by the homosexual Ugandans. Right now our focus is on this piece of legislation and saying that these kinds of legislations that instill fear, that silence the voice of civil society, are unconstitutional.
I mean, two people were in a loving relationship - a same-sex loving relationship - how do they affect society? How do they affect me, who is living here with my family? I know that there are other issues children that go hungry, lack of medicines in our hospitals, poverty, a whole lot of other issues that concern us directly, which are more of a threat to us than two people in a same-sex, you know, loving relationship.
So, we really need to, as local nationals, give these arguments and engage with our government and our parliamentarians on these issues from our own stories and from our own perspectives. If we do that then the support of the international communities and the international voices will not Im sure will not having a backlash.
NEARY: Julius Kaggwa is an activist from Uganda. He joined us in our Washington studios. Thanks so much for being here.
Mr. KAGGWA: Youre welcome.