No vote: Future of Uganda's anti-gay bill in limbo

May 13, 2011 - 8:28 AM

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Uganda's parliament adjourned Friday without acting on a criticized anti-gay bill that would mandate the death sentence in some cases, drawing praise from an advocacy group that said parliament's failure to act was a "victory for all Ugandans."

Speaker of Parliament Edward Ssekandi Kiwanuk said there is no time to take up the bill this session, which ends Wednesday, leaving the bill's future uncertain. Kiwanuk adjourned the parliament Friday and set no date for the body to return.

The bill has drawn criticism from U.S. leaders and human rights groups. The U.S. State Department spokesman on Wednesday called the bill "odious" and said no changes to the bill's wording would justify its passage.

Avaaz, an Internet group that champions action on issues like poverty and climate change, called it a "victory for all Ugandans and people across the world who value human rights" that parliament did not take action Friday.

"This vile bill is a matter of life and death for gay Ugandans, and would have seen the execution, imprisonment and persecution of friends of Avaaz, and thousands of others who have committed no crime at all. We must now ensure this heinous bill can never return to Parliament again," said Alice Jay, the group's campaign director.

David Bahati, who authored the bill, has said that if the anti-gay bill was not voted on this session, he would try to move the legislation forward next session.

Helen Kawesa, spokeswoman for parliament, said the anti-gay bill could come back up for debate in the next parliament but that it would likely take time to get back to the floor.

Kakoba Onyango, a member of parliament, said the anti-gay bill has taken so long to be acted on because President Yoweri Museveni did not back it and because of the criticism of human rights groups.

Gay rights groups say that the harassment of gays has increased in Uganda since the introduction of the bill in October 2009.

Last year a tabloid newspaper in Uganda published the names and photos of men it alleged were gay. One cover included the words "Hang Them." Shortly afterward, a prominent gay rights activist whose picture was published was bludgeoned to death, though authorities contend David Kato's sexual orientation had nothing to do with the killing.

Bahati's original bill would mandate a death sentence for active homosexuals living with HIV or in cases of same-sex rape. "Serial offenders" also would face capital punishment. Anyone convicted of a homosexual act would face life imprisonment.

Anyone who "aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage of acts of homosexuality" would face seven years in prison. Landlords who rent rooms or homes to homosexuals also could get seven years.

Homosexuality is highly unpopular in Uganda, and pastors in this Christian country speak out loudly against it. Bahati has said he thinks the bill would become law if voted on.

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Associated Press reporter Godfrey Olukya contributed to this report.