By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times
JOHANNESBURG — Human rights groups and Western leaders condemned harsh anti-gay legislation signed into law Monday by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, calling it draconian, offensive and an affront to basic rights.
But Ugandan officials and parliamentarians, including David Bahati, who introduced the law in parliament, celebrated the move.
Bahati posted a thank you message to Museveni on his Facebook page: “If you are involved in the gay and lesbianism lifestyle you are liable to life imprisonment. Thanks to President Yoweri Museveni for protecting our families in Uganda.”
Museveni ignored intense Western pressure and appeals from President Barack Obama and South African Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican archbishop, in signing the bill into law Monday.
The White House issued a statement saying that Museveni had taken Uganda “a step backward” by signing the law, and U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry called it “a tragic day for Uganda and for all who care about the cause of human rights.”
Without specifying any action that the United States might take, Kerry said the U.S. was “beginning an internal review of our relationship with the government of Uganda to ensure that all dimensions of our engagement, including assistance programs, uphold our anti-discrimination policies and principles and reflect our values.”
The White House statement said, in part: “We will continue to urge the Ugandan government to repeal this abhorrent law and to advocate for the protection of the universal human rights of LGBT persons in Uganda and around the world.”
Britain also condemned the law.
Uganda is an important U.S. ally in counterterrorism in East Africa, with Ugandan troops playing an important role in the African Union force that has driven back the al-Qaida-linked militia, Al-Shabab, in Somalia.
But the Ugandan leader, who has been in power for nearly 28 years, has been accused by Human Rights Watch, among others, of an increasing crackdown on rights such as freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.
When Bahati originally introduced the anti-gay law in 2009, it provided the death penalty for homosexuality. Several years later that clause was dropped, but under the new law consenting gay and lesbian adults face life in prison.
According to the law, people convicted of “aggravated homosexuality” — a crime that includes repeated acts of gay sex between consenting adults _ would face life in jail. The definition also includes gay sex involving a child or a disabled person.
The law also makes it a criminal offense not to report people suspected of being gay and may force gay and lesbian people to flee the country to avoid persecution.
Museveni summoned journalists to his official residence at Entebbe to witness the signing ceremony, at which he described homosexuality as “disgusting” and criticized what he called the West’s “social imperialism” in pressuring Uganda not to repress gay and lesbian people. He accused Western groups of arrogance and trying recruit Ugandan youth into homosexuality.
“I am not able to understand the logic of the Western culture. However, we Africans always keep our opinions to ourselves and never seek to impose our point of view on the others. If only they could let us alone,” he told journalists.
“Outsiders cannot dictate to us. This is our country. I advise friends from the West not to make this an issue, because if they make it an issue, the more they will lose. If the West does not want to work with us because of homosexuals, then we have enough space to ourselves here.”
AFP Photo/Chip Somodevilla