January 15, 2010 / 12:52 PM / 10 years ago

UN rights boss urges Uganda to shelve anti-gay bill

KAMPALA (Reuters) - A Ugandan preacher said on Friday he planned a “million-man” march to support an anti-gay draft law which the United Nations top human rights official called “blatantly discriminatory”.

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni waves upon his arrival at Ngurdoto Mountain Lodge in Arusha May 22, 2008. REUTERS/Antony Njuguna

Pastor Martin Ssempa, who has close ties to U.S. evangelicals and President Yoweri Museveni’s family, said the march was being organised for February 17.

“We want to show how many people support the bill,” Pastor Martin Ssempa told journalists in the Ugandan capital.

“We want to give a postcard that (Museveni) can send to his friend (U.S. President) Barack Obama,” Ssempa said in front of posters saying “Africans Unite Against Sodomy” and “Barack Obama Back Off”.

Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, added to Western criticism of the proposed legislation by saying it breached international standards. She called on Uganda to shelve it.

“The bill proposes draconian punishments for people alleged to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered — namely life imprisonment, or in some cases, the death penalty,” Pillay said in a statement.

Uganda’s Ethics and Integrity Minister Nsaba Buturo has said a revised law would now probably limit the maximum penalty to life in prison rather than execution. The private members’ bill was tabled in parliament last year.


The draft legislation would prohibit any form of sexual relations between people of the same sex as well as the recognition of homosexual relations as an acceptable lifestyle, Pillay said.

It could lead to a prison sentence of up to 3 years for anyone failing to report within 24 hours the identities of any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered person, she said.

Pillay, a former U.N. war crimes judge from South Africa, welcomed what she called statements by Museveni and senior members of the government suggesting it might intervene to stop the bill becoming law.

Museveni seemed to distance himself and the government from the proposed law on Tuesday, saying it was a foreign policy issue and calling for more discussion.

Uganda has had a generally “good track record” of cooperating with human rights mechanisms, Pillay said.

“This bill threatens to seriously damage the country’s reputation in the international arena,” she said.

Ssempa, one of the East African nation’s most prominent anti-gay campaigners, criticised Western countries as “failed states” for supporting gay rights.

A local independent newspaper, the Daily Monitor, quoted parliament’s speaker as saying the legislative body would debate the bill despite Museveni’s call for more talks.

“There is no way we can be intimidated by remarks from the President to stop this bill,” Edward Ssekandi was quoted as saying.

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