In August, Uganda's constitutional court annulled the country's controversial Anti-Homosexuality Act that stipulated lifetime sentences for anyone convicted of committing same-sex intercourse. But a lawmaker said on Friday that a draft of a new, similar law, titled "The Prohibition of Promotion of Unnatural Sexual Practices," would be put forward in parliament before the end of the year, calling it a "Christmas gift" to Ugandan citizens.
"The draft is ready and we have strengthened the law, especially in areas of promotion and luring children," Abdu Latif Ssebagala, a member of a special parliament committee established in September to renovate the law, told Reuters. "Next week we expect to meet the speaker to fix a date for the re-tabling to parliament."
The original law, which established legal penalties for homosexuals and anyone convicted of assisting homosexual activity, such as brothel owners, was met with condemnation from international human rights and LGBT groups when it was introduced last December. President Yoweri Museveni, the law's most visible booster, found himself under intense pressure from Western nations to dismantle his country's punitive stance towards the gay community.
Norway and Denmark said that they would withhold millions of dollars of aid from Uganda immediately after Museveni ratified the law in February. In June, the United States announced that it would also begin cutting aid to the East African country by diverting funds intended for government ministers to local non-governmental organizations, and would place support money intended for projects in Uganda into the hands of other African countries.
The law was eventually nullified in court because there were not enough legislators present at the parliament session that passed it — a technicality also known as a lack of quorum.
Following the court's decision, Ugandan government officials made no secret of their interest in reinstating the law as soon as possible. Parliament Watch Uganda, a transparency advocacy organization, posted pictures on social media of parliament officials allegedly holding hands and singing "We shall never allow homosexuality" four days after the law was struck down.
But Museveni, who is up for re-election in 2016, has lately been broadcasting his own criticisms of the original law. In an op-ed published by The Independent magazine in October, he questioned "gaps" in the document's logic and pointed to the international ramifications Uganda might face in its wake.
"After signing the bill, there was a lot of happiness among the Ugandans as well as other Africans although there was a lot of hostility from the bulk of Western Governments," he wrote. Though he was unmoved by the withholding of aid, "a more serious problem cropped up — the possibility of trade boycott by Western companies under the pressure of the homosexual lobbies in the West."
Museveni also addressed homosexuality as biological.
"You cannot punish somebody for the way he was born even when he/she is a deviant," he admitted. "Our scientists argued that all homosexuality was by nurture not nature. On the basis of that, I agreed to sign the bill although some people still contest that understanding. I was also provoked into signing the bill by the arrogant approach of some foreign governments."
Despite the apparent softening of the Ugandan leader's stance, rights groups say that the persecution of gays in Uganda is unlikely to change soon.
"Over several years, there has been some element or some group of parliamentarians that have publicly committed to passing an anti-homosexuality law," Maria Burnett, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, told VICE News. "It's been a political hot potato, and this endless homophobic rhetoric serves various domestic political interests, especially in the context of the 2016 elections."
Government officials originally claimed that a new law would alleviate some of the criticisms leveled at Uganda by allowing homosexual behavior if it is between consenting adults and acted upon in private — a change that Museveni welcomed after the original bill was shot down.
The first draft of the new law, however, directly contradicts the government's claims. Its last clause, titled "consent not a defense," notes that the "consent of a person or, in the case of a child, the consent of a parent or guardian is not a defense to an offence under this act."
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