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Will Uganda's Anti-Gay Bill Reverberate Across Africa?

FILE - Ugandan activists gathered for a gay pride rally, celebrating one year since the overturning of a strict anti-homosexuality law in Entebbe on August 8, 2015.
FILE - Ugandan activists gathered for a gay pride rally, celebrating one year since the overturning of a strict anti-homosexuality law in Entebbe on August 8, 2015.

WASHINGTON - Human rights activists say Uganda's passage of an anti-homosexuality bill could be the impetus for similar far-reaching legislation across Africa as anti-gay sentiments grow.

More than 30 African states already have laws that ban same-sex relationships.

Ghana for example, has recently introduced anti-LGBTQI bills before parliament in an attempt to criminalize consensual same-sex relationships.

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken “urged the Ugandan government to strongly consider [the impact of] the implementation of this legislation,” saying via Twitter that the bill “could reverse gains in the fight against HIV/AIDS.”

Uganda's parliament just-passed 'Anti-Homosexuality Act' is seen by human rights activists as a “revised and egregious” version of its 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Act, which was struck down by a court on procedural grounds.

The new measure imposes life prison sentences for people who identify as gay, with property owners also risking jail terms if they rented their facility to an LGTBQI person.

Negative and dehumanizing rhetoric against Uganda's LGBTQI community heightened as legislators debated the bill - and President Yoweri Museveni described gay people as “deviants.”

Robert Akoto Amoafo, advocacy manager at Pan Africa ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Trans and Intersex Association) told VOA from Accra that the passage of Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill is “worrying and concerning” for the LGBTQI community across Africa.

“This bill takes the basic rights of individuals across Uganda away from them by forcing them to report people, and then also forcing them to out their family members or friends or colleagues based on perception,” he said, noting that “this is one thing that most of the time we lose sight of.”

He said the bill would deepen discrimination in a country where LGBTQI persons already face its penal code, which punishes persons who have “carnal knowledge against the order of nature.”

“People don't want to be associated with [homosexuals] because of the possibility of being tagged a criminal for not reporting. So, this clearly shows that the bill has gone beyond a homosexual issue to that of a human rights discussion.”

On March 9, Human Rights Watch said the bill if passed “would violate multiple fundamental human rights.” Oryem Nyeko, a Uganda researcher at the international human rights organization told VOA that he's “disappointed” at the bills' passage, describing it as “regressive.”

Nyeko said there's high possibility of the bill becoming the norm across the continent because “historically when one African country puts in place a repressive policy, other countries replicate it.”

“Politicians are distracting from the contemporary issues that are facing ordinary Ugandans by picking the low hanging fruit - which is this idea of homosexuality being the cause of sexual abuse of children,” he said.

“I definitely see other politicians and other public figures in other [African] countries using the same tactic,” he added.

Eric Ndwula, a 26-year-old LGBTQI activist told Reuters that his landlord issued him an eviction notice this month after a video of him being identified as gay went viral.

“I have been in this house for over four years. And I have never, no neighbor here could come and say that you have recruited my child into homosexuality. Or by the mere fact that they are looking at a homosexual, they have become homosexuals.”

Museveni has yet to sign the bill into law amid calls by the international community, including the United Nations to reject it.

The Human Rights Watch's Nyeko said despite Museveni's past rhetoric against the LGTBQI community, the Ugandan president has been a “relative ally'' toward the community.

“Just two years ago, Museveni declined to sign the sexual offences bill which had similar provisions but not as extensive as this one,” he said adding that “his [Museveni's] argument was that the penal code already provided for that.”

Some information in this article was sourced from Reuters.