The UN has called on Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, to halt an anti-LGBTQ+ bill that has harsh penalties for some homosexual offences, among them death and life imprisonment.
“The passing of this discriminatory bill – probably among the worst of its kind in the world – is a deeply troubling development,” said the UN high commissioner for human rights Volker Turk in a statement.
In the US, national security council mouthpiece John Kirby said Washington would consider imposing economic sanctions on Uganda if the bill were signed.
He noted that this would be “really unfortunate” since most US aid is in the form health assistance, especially anti-Aids assistance.
Uganda’s legislature passed the bill late last Tuesday in a protracted plenary session in which last-minute changes were made to the legislation that originally included penalties of up to 10 years in jail for homosexual offences.
In the version okayed by lawmakers, the offence of “aggravated homosexuality” will see one get a death penalty. Aggravated homosexuality applies in cases of sex relations involving those infected with HIV as well as minors and other categories of vulnerable people.
The bill says that a suspect convicted of “attempted aggravated homosexuality” can be jailed for 14 years, and the offence of “attempted homosexuality” is punishable by up to 10 years.
The offence of “homosexuality” is punishable by life imprisonment, the same punishment prescribed in a colonial-era penal code criminalising sex acts “against the order of nature.”
The bill was introduced in February by an opposition lawmaker who said his goal was to punish “promotion, recruitment and funding” related to LGBTQ+ activities in this east African country where homosexuals are widely disparaged.
The bill now goes to Museveni, who can veto or sign it into law. In a recent speech, he suggested that he supports the legislation, accusing unnamed western nations of “trying to impose their practices on other people.”
“If signed into law by the president, it will render lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Uganda criminals simply for existing, for being who they are,” the UN rights chief, said in the statement.
“It could provide carte blanche for the systematic violation of nearly all of their human rights and serve to incite people against each other.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Wednesday that the US had “grave concerns” about the bill, adding that it would hamper tourism and economic investment, and “damage Uganda’s reputation”.
Jean-Pierre added: “No one should be attacked, imprisoned, or killed simply because of who they are, or who they love.”
Anti-gay sentiments in Uganda have grown in recent weeks amid alleged reports of sodomy in boarding schools, including a prestigious one for boys where a parent accused a teacher of abusing her son. Authorities are probing that case.
The recent decision of the Church of England to bless civil marriages of same-sex couples has also inflamed many, including some who see homosexuality as imported from abroad.