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Uganda anti-gay bill passes vote, moves forward

The death penalty has reportedly been removed from the bill, but it would still be the harshest anti-LGBT law in the world.
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Uganda's anti-gay bill has passed a committee vote and will move to Parliament without the death penalty clause. However, its passage would still spell doom for the LGBT community and those infected with HIV/AIDS in Uganda. (PEDRO ARMESTRE/AFP/Getty Images)

The Ugandan bill known as the "Kill the Gays" bill since it was originally put forward in 2009 has moved toward final passage. It easily made its way through a committee vote on Friday Nov. 23, and will go to Parliament next to be debated on the floor. 

The bill, which originally mandated the death penalty for any homosexual act, has been modified, according to Frank Mugisha, director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), a gay-rights NGO operating in the country, and the BBC. It will no longer contain the death penalty as punishment for "aggravated" homosexuality and instead will suggest life imprisonment. 

No one has seen the final version of the bill, but sources inside parliament have confirmed the change and that there were other "substantial amendments," reported the BBC. 

If passed, the law will be the world's harshest against homosexuality, even without the death penalty clause. Even without specifically mentioning the death penalty, the language is reportedly ambiguous enough to be concerning, specifically when it comes to the phrasing of one specific clause that will "prohibit and penalize homosexual behaviour and related practices in Uganda as they constitute a threat to the traditional family." 

More from GlobalPost: Uganda and Nigeria may pass anti-gay laws by Christmas

Sokari Ekine, a blogger for the Guardian's Africa Network, reports that the subjective and open-ended nature of the bill "is an open invitation to lynch LGBTI people, so in reality the death penalty remains" and describes the most baffling part of the bill, which extends the law beyond Ugandan border. The legislation also includes the "nullification of inconsistent international treaties, protocols declarations and conventions."

The bill has the international community reeling. Mike Freer, an openly gay English MP has called on the British government to halt all aid to Uganda if it's passed, and with just a week to go before World AIDS Day, NGOs are wondering what affect this could have on their work in Uganda. 

Uganda is already a country with lackluster AIDS education, and according to Dr. Alvaro Bermejo, Executive Director of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, many don't know they are infected with HIV. 

"If the bill is passed it's likely to lead to even more HIV infections in politically isolated populations, especially among men who have sex with men," wrote Bermejo in a Huffington Post column. "They will be prevented from having access to essential public health information, such as how to protect themselves from HIV and how to access life saving treatment and support services that are stigma-free."

Still, the bill is expected to go for a vote "before Christmas," according to the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga.

UPDATE 11/29: The State Department now says their official, Victoria Nuland, misspoke to the press on Monday and that the death penatly could still be in the bill. According to the Washington Blade, State's spokesperson Nicole Thompson said on Tuesday, "The bill is currently in committee and has not yet reached the full parliament for consideration.”

Frank Mugisha, an LGBT rights activist in Uganda told the RIGHTS blog via Twitter that the death penalty clause is "still there but the committee has recommended that it should be removd [sic]."

For more of GlobalPost's coverage of LGBT rights in Africa, check out our Special Report "The Rainbow Struggle: A Global Battle over Gay Rights."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/rights/uganda-anti-gay-bill-passes-vote-moves-forward