Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has said persecution against gay people will be investigated while apparently distancing himself from the nation’s proposed ‘Kill the Gays Bill’.
Museveni was speaking with human rights activists from a US delegation led by Kerry Kennedy, the president of the Robert F Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.
Uganda has been under international pressure as its parliament has an Anti-Homosexuality Bill which may be debated at any time. It has been dubbed the Kill the Gays Bill by its opponents.
The only versions of the bill currently in the public domain list the death penalty for ‘aggravated homosexuality’ – including those who have gay sex after a prior conviction or who are HIV positive.
But Museveni gave a mixed message on LGBT issues.
He denied there was persecution or discrimination against gay people in Uganda but said any incidents reported would be investigated.
He said: ‘In Uganda, there is no discrimination, no killings, no marginalization, no luring of young people using money into homosexual acts.’
By he added gay people ‘were regarded as deviants’ by society.
He said Africans handle sexuality differently to European and ‘other Western countries’ who publicly ‘flaunt’ it, which is inappropriate to Ugandan culture.
‘If am to kiss my wife in public, I would lose an election in Uganda,’ he said. ‘Western people exhibit sexual acts in public which we don’t do here.
‘You have a lot of room in your house, why don’t you go there. Sex is a bilateral issue, not a multilateral one.’
Accompanied by several lawyers, actors and religious leaders, Kennedy expressed concern over the harassment of the Uganda’s LGBT community including recent anti-gay media exposure and outings.
Kennedy said this was a clear violation to the right of privacy, and the pending bill on homosexuality is against international law and treaties Uganda has signed.
Proponents of Anti-Homosexuality Bill, most notably Member of Parliament David Bahati (its author and sponsor), allege gays lure people with financial rewards and ‘recruit’ members of the public into homosexuality.
Bahati has said the bill, which is on the list of upcoming parliamentary business, is needed to tackle a growing problem.
By contrast Museveni appears to be distance himself from that view by saying there are ‘few homosexuals in Uganda’.
He said he would ‘investigate claims of violence against homosexuals,’ adding that for a viable solution, activists ‘must respect the confidentiality of sex in our traditions and culture’.
Museveni also appeared to indicate gay people should be granted privacy, against a backdrop where tabloid newspaper Red Pepper has been ‘exposing’ them. But the president cautioned LGBT people to keep a low profile.
Speaking about Red Pepper, which has been publishing names as well as photos of men having gay sex, he said he is ‘under pressure to ban that paper for exposing heterosexual nudity.
‘This is an affront on our culture. Now if you add homosexuality… Heterosexuality is enough provocation with both of these, it is too much.’
However, he has resisted the ban due to concerns from the West about freedom of speech.
Frank Mugisha, chair of the charity Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), told Gay Star News: ‘It is our role as activists to point out that there is discrimination, the incitement to hate in some of the media vehicles, harassment and arrests of LGBT people does occur.’
He added: ‘Perhaps he wanted to say there is no explicit prosecution of gay people by the Ugandan government.
‘So we will have to point out that anti-gay laws, arrests of LGBT people and activists, is discrimination.
‘It’s encouraging up to a point that as a head of state he promised to investigate any claims of discrimination against LGBT people’.
But veteran human rights advocate, Peter Tatchell was slightly more skeptical.
He said: ‘Museveni has strong autocratic tendencies. His regime is guilty of wide-ranging human rights abuses.
‘If he was against the AHB [Anti-Homosexuality Bill] why didn't he give a stronger hint? He is not known for being subtle about anything.
‘His denial of homophobic persecution (discrimination and violence) is demonstrably untrue’.