United Nations urges Ugandan president to not sign anti-gay bill

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Ravina Shamdasani. - PHOTO: Courtesy

The United Nations human rights office is calling on the president of Uganda to not sign a anti-gay bill that would authorize life sentences for LGBT people.

“LGBT individuals in Uganda are a vulnerable and marginalized minority, already facing violence and discrimination. If signed by the President, this new law would reinforce stigma and prejudice, and institutionalize discrimination,” said Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

If it becomes law, the bill — passed by the Ugandan Parliament on Dec. 20 — would impose sentences of life imprisonment for consensual, same-sex relationships as well as prison sentences on those who “promote” homosexuality.

“We call on the president of Uganda to protect human rights and to refrain from signing this bill into law,” Shamdasani said. “Uganda should also repeal colonial-era anachronistic provisions of the Penal Code that criminalize consensual same-sex relationships. Urgent steps must be taken to ensure effective protection of LGBT individuals from violence and discrimination.”

The UN office indicated the measure would have a detrimental effect on the fundamental rights of LGBT members of Ugandan society and also on the work of human rights defenders and efforts to address HIV/AIDS in the country.

The bill’s provisions, the office added, stand in clear violation of the rights to liberty, privacy, non-discrimination and freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association protected by the constitution of Uganda, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that Uganda has ratified, and by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

“The government has a legal obligation to prevent discrimination and cannot withhold basic rights from certain individuals because the majority disapproves of them,” Shamdasani stated. “All people, including LGBT individuals, have the same human rights and are entitled to full protection by the State.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appealed for the complete and universal decriminalization of homosexuality, still a criminal offense in 76 countries, stressing that human rights must always trump cultural attitudes and societal strictures.