Diplomatic representatives from the USA and France are the latest to condemn a recently tabled anti-gay Bill in Uganda, which calls for the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality".
Humanitarian groups have called the legislation "appalling". But there is deep concern about the number of religious figures inside and outside the country who have supported, condoned or failed to speak out on a measure which the US embassy in Kampala told news agency AFP yesterday (4 November 2009) "would mark a major setback in the promotion of human rights" if it became law.
"If adopted, a bill further criminalising homosexuality would constitute a significant step backwards for the protection of human rights in Uganda," the embassy's public affairs officer Joann Lockard declared.
"We urge states to take all necessary measures to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests, or detention."
Human Rights Watch says people suspected of being gay have faced death threats and been physically assaulted. Many of them have been ostracised by their families or faced discrimination, including dismissal from their place of employment.
The French foreign ministry said in a statement on 3 November: "France reiterates its commitment to the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the fight against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity."
But Ugandan Ethics Minister, James Nsaba Buturo said the country had no intention of heeding the advice of foreigners on the issue of homosexuality - despite the huge amount of international assistance the country receives and the language of partnership used around aid programmes.
Buturo balked at the notion that the proposed bill - which, among other things, would criminalise any public discussion of homosexuality and could penalise an individual who knowingly rented property to a homosexual - constituted a human rights violation.
"We are really getting tired of this phrase human rights," he said.
Meanwhile an Anglican church leader in Uganda, while rejecting proposals that homosexuals should face the death penalty for sexual assault in some cases, says that prison terms should remain as a deterrent.
"We want to state categorically that homosexuality is unacceptable," Bishop Stanley Ntagali of Masindi-Kitara diocese told Ecumenical News International in a recent interview.
He said he and his church views those involved in homosexuality as sinners who can repent and reform, adding: "We have to be a moral fibre of the society."
Critics, including human rights and pro-gay faith groups, say the church's stance in justifying prejudice and violence against gay people is immoral and unChristian.
Homosexual acts are already a criminal offence in Uganda, with the maximum penalty being life imprisonment.
The new measure, introduced by lawmaker David Bahati, proposes a seven-year jail term for anyone who "attempts to commit the offence" or who "aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage in acts of homosexuality."
If passed, the law would also punish the publishing of information, the provision of funds or premises for homosexual activities with a seven-year jail sentence or a fine of US$50,000, the PlusNews service reported.
The draft law says it aims to "protect the traditional family by prohibiting any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex."
Beatrice Were, a Ugandan HIV/AIDS activist, said the measure would push homosexuals further underground.
"Our national strategic plan for HIV/AIDS aims to achieve universal prevention, treatment and care. If people are criminalised and not allowed to exist, how they can access these services," the Integrated Regional Information Networks quoted Were as saying.
The NGO Human Rights Watch has said that in recent months, "There has been increased campaigning against homosexuality in Uganda, led by churches and anti-gay groups."
Meanwhile, Okello Lucima, a Ugandan political economist and policy analyst, has written in his Northern Uganda Messenger Post blog: “This [Bill] is not only cavalier violations of human rights, but a dangerous hate campaign and incitement to harm or kill members of the GLBT in Uganda. The people of Uganda, and all people of good will, must not sit and watch while this happens."
He adds: "The sponsors of the bill, their supporters and political leaders - inside and outside parliament - must be identified, isolated and ostracised by the entire civilised world that respect difference and diversity. Most democratising societies have laws that criminalise purveyors of hate and incitement of hatred against a person, persons or communities; and have robust bill of rights that protect citizens and minorities. Uganda should not be an exception.”
Also on Ekklesia:
'Anglicanism's Ugandan moment of truth', by Colin Coward - http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/10531
'Anti-gay bill tests core Christian witness', by Savi Hensman - http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/10526