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US urged to recall Uganda envoy over gay bill

Rights group says ambassador should be withdrawn after Ugandan president says he will sign anti-gay law.

Last updated: 20 Feb 2014 06:54
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The bill was first tabled in 2009, with a proposed death penalty for some homosexual acts [Al Jazeera]

Human Rights Watch has said the United States should recall its ambassador to Uganda and review diplomatic relations after the Uganda's leader said he would sign into law a bill prescribing life imprisonment for homosexuals. 

The New York-based group also said Uganda's international donor partners should "clearly and publicly" specify the consequences for relations with Uganda if the Anti-Homosexuality bill becomes law. 

Uganda’s international partners need to show unequivocally that if this bill is passed, it will not be business as usual with the Ugandan government.

Daniel Bekele, Human Rights Watch

"There is real urgency now that [Yoweri] Museveni has stated his intention to sign the bill," Daniel Bekele, the Africa director for Human Right Watch, said on Wednesday, referring to the Ugandan president. 

"The US should temporarily recall the ambassador to conduct strategic consultations on the US/Uganda relationship, while making clear the range of concerns for yet another clawback to human rights in Uganda."

Human Rights Watch said the bill violates the country’s human rights obligations and would act as a barrier to advancing critical public health goals.

It called for a review of funding assistance to Uganda to ensure that US funds are not used to further prosecution of anyone under the homosexuality law. 

"In particular funding for the police should be subject to close scrutiny as they would be legally mandated to enforce this law," the group said.

Though popular among Ugandans who insist homosexuality is a "vice" from Western countries, the bill has attracted criticism from world leaders as it seeks to increase penalties for some forms of consensual same-sex conduct between adults and infringe on constitutionally protected rights to privacy.

Obama warning 

US President Barack Obama has called the bill "odious" and warned Museveni that enacting an anti-gay law would complicate relations.

The bill was first tabled in 2009, with a proposed death penalty for some homosexual acts, drawing a firestorm of criticism from rights groups and Western leaders.

The death penalty was later removed amid international pressure, but rights groups want the whole bill scrapped.

"If Museveni signs the Anti-Homosexuality bill, it would be yet another blow to fundamental human rights in Uganda," said Bekele. 

"Uganda’s international partners need to show unequivocally that if this bill is passed, it will not be business as usual with the Ugandan government."

The bill was passed in December by parliament without the required number of MPs in the house, prompting criticism from Museveni who said it was rushed, adding that he would only sign it after seeking the opinion of scientists.

Last week, a Ugandan government spokesman said Museveni had decided to sign the bill after a team of "medical experts" from the country's health ministry issued a statement saying "there is no definitive gene responsible for homosexuality".

Homophobia runs deep in Uganda, and religious leaders and some Ugandans on social media have been urging the president to sign the bill, saying laws punishing same-sex sex acts will save the country's moral fibre.

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Al Jazeera
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