By Sarah Namulondo
The United States spokeswoman for the State Department, Victoria Nuland, has said that the US is pressing Uganda not to pass an “Anti-Homosexuality Bill,”.
The bill was denied in 2009 but resurfaced this year in February when the parliament resumed its proceedings.
MPs applauded as Ndorwa West MP, David Bahati, took to the floor to re-introduce the controversial Bill for reference to the appropriate committee.
After re-tabling the Bill, MPs both on the ruling side and the opposition gave Bahati a standing ovation. “Our Bill, our man,” the legislators chanted.
The speaker of parliament Rebecca Kadaga and the President when asked about the bill gave their positions clearly that they are not in support of homosexuality in Uganda a position which most Ugandans considered patriotic.
The speaker spoke to journalists saying that they will need two weeks to finally pass this law as a Christmas present to the Ugandan people.
Meanwhile the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson was in Uganda this weekend, reiterating the US administration’s “vocal” concerns about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill under consideration here, the spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
Regarding questions about the death penalty, which has been a penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” in earlier versions of the bill, Nuland said she didn’t know whether the State Department has seen a version of the bill as passed by a legislative committee in Uganda’s parliament. But these penalties have been removed from the bill after revision by the committee the speaker said.
“There have been a little bit of a close hold about this, partly because there’s been so much controversy in the international community. So our concern is about any criminalization of homosexuality, obviously,” Nuland said.
While this bill appears to be popular in Uganda, it has attracted widespread criticism abroad.
Personally President Barack Obama came out and described it as “odious,” while some European countries are threatening to cut aid to Uganda if the bill becomes law.
Below is the extended exchange, from a State Department’s press briefing on Nov 26
QUESTION: Yeah, I have a question on Uganda, actually. There’s an anti-homosexuality bill that’s making its way through the legislature right there. What is the State Department’s current assessment of where that bill is and if that’s going to be headed toward a vote anytime soon?
MS. NULAND: Again, Assistant Secretary Carson was also in Uganda over the weekend. He had a chance to raise again our concerns about this issue, which we’ve been very vocal about. Our understanding is that a version of the bill has now passed a committee in Uganda. As we have regularly said, we call on the parliament in Uganda to look very carefully at this, because Uganda’s own human rights council has made clear that if this were to pass, it would put the country out of compliance with its own international human rights obligations. And so Assistant Secretary Carson had a chance to make that point again and our strong opposition to this, to the president, to the parliament, and to key decision makers in Uganda.
QUESTION: And there was – and once the bill had a provision that would institute the death penalty for homosexual acts. As far as the State Department knows, has that provision been removed or is it still in the bill?
MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t know that we have actually seen the version that passed committee. They’ve been a little bit close hold about this, partly because there’s been so much controversy in the international community. So our concern is about any criminalization of homosexuality, obviously.
QUESTION: And one last question. Some countries, Britain and Sweden, have threatened to cut foreign aid to Uganda if this bill becomes law. Is there any consideration in the U.S. Administration to cut foreign aid to Uganda if that bill becomes law?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to get into any hypothetical situations. Our focus now is on raising awareness of the concerns within Uganda about this bill so that we don’t get to that stage.
On this, Toria. Did Secretary Carson meet with the speaker of the parliament?
MS. NULAND: My understanding is he did see the speaker of the parliament, whether it was in a larger group or whether it was a distinct meeting that he did, yes.
Q: But he – so he made that point directly to her?
MS. NULAND: Yes, he did.