Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signing the anti-gay bill into law (Photo: AP Photo/Rebecca Vassie)
In a reversal of his earlier position, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has signed a bill into law that imposes harsh penalties for homosexual acts, including a life sentence for acts of so-called "aggravated homosexuality."
In a signing ceremony at his official residence in Entebbe, close to the capital Kampala, Museveni took aim at foreign governments, like those of Canada and U.S., which had publicly urged him not to sign the bill. "We Africans never seek to impose our view on others. If only they could let us alone," he said, according to AP. "We have been disappointed for a long time by the conduct of the West. There is now an attempt at social imperialism."
The new law, which enjoys widespread public support in the country, imposes a 14-year sentence for first-time offenders. Those found guilty of "aggravated homosexuality" — which includes repeated gay sex between consenting adults as well as homosexual acts where one partner is a minor, disabled person or person with HIV — will face a life sentence. The bill had originally called for the death penalty, but that was removed following international condemnation.
In January, Museveni had refused to support the law, in part because he claimed it was passed without a quorum and also because he thought homosexuals were "abnormal people" who were "born with the disorientation of being attracted to the same sex" — and therefore it was "wrong to punish somebody on account of being born abnormal."
In a blog post on his official website, Museveni explained that his change in thinking was based in part on 'scientific' opinions he'd sought from researchers in the country. "Their unanimous conclusion was that homosexuality, contrary to my earlier thinking, was behavioural and not genetic," he wrote. "It was learnt and could be unlearnt." The scientists, from the government Ministry of Health and local universities, produced a report with that conclusion, and were present at the bill's signing.
"The president is making this decision because he has never met an openly gay person," Pepe Julian Onziema, a gay activist in Uganda, told AP. "That disappoints me." Onziema and other activists had attempted to meet with Museveni, without success, he said.
Some European countries had threatened to cut aid to Uganda if the bill were enacted, and today the White House released a statement saying U.S. President Barack Obama would push the Ugandan government to repeal the law.
"As President Obama has said, this law is more than an affront and a danger to the gay community in Uganda, it reflects poorly on the country's commitment to protecting the human rights of its people and will undermine public health, including efforts to fight HIV/AIDS," the statement said.
Uganda is far from the only country with restrictive laws concerning homosexuality. Nigeria passed a similar law last month, and in December, an Indian court reinstated a 19th-century law banning gay sex. This interactive CBC map rounds up the legal status of homosexuality around the world.