Uganda gov’t lawyers advise Museveni not to sign anti-gay bill

Lawyers for the Ugandan government have advised President Yoweri Museveni not to sign a draconian anti-gay bill passed by parliament last month, as he met with ruling party lawmakers on Thursday to discuss the controversial legislation.

Museveni has faced widespread calls to reject what has been criticised as among the world’s harshest anti-gay legislation.

Under the bill, anyone who engages in same-sex activity could face life imprisonment, and repeat offenders could be sentenced to death, according to activists.

Lawyers for the government have advised the president to send the bill back to parliament, according to a letter sent by the deputy attorney general to the speaker of parliament on Thursday and seen by AFP.

The move came as the European Parliament voted to condemn the bill and urged EU states to find a way to pressure Museveni into not implementing it, warning that relations with Kampala were at stake.

MEPs urged the European Commission to “use all necessary diplomatic, legal and financial means to convince the president to not sign the law.”

In the letter to speaker Anita Among, deputy attorney general Kaafuzi Jackson Kargaba said the government’s legal team had recommended that the bill “be returned to Parliament for reconsideration”.

The government wants to “ensure that once the bill is assented to, it stands the test of time without being struck down by Court as being unconstitutional”, Karaba said.

The inclusion of the death penalty in particular would leave the bill open to legal challenge in a country that has effectively ended the use of capital punishment, he said.

Such provisions “need to be revisited before the Bill is assented to by His Excellency the President to avoid the Bill being challenged in Court on grounds of unconstitutionality upon coming into force.”

‘Deeply troubling’

Museveni summoned lawmakers from the ruling National Resistance Movement on Thursday to discuss the bill, with the party’s chief whip Denis Hamson Obua confirming the meeting to AFP before it got under way.

According to a text of the meeting seen by AFP, some of the lawmakers also advised the president to “send back the Bill to Parliament, with proposals for its improvement”.

Sources close to Museveni’s office earlier told AFP that they expect the president to reject the current draft of the bill and return it to parliament for reconsideration.

Last month, the White House warned Uganda of possible economic repercussions if the legislation takes effect.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, also urged Museveni not to promulgate the bill into law.

“The passing of this discriminatory bill -– probably among the worst of its kind in the world –- is a deeply troubling development,” he said after the March parliamentary vote.

But many of Uganda’s neighbours are also cracking down on gay rights, with politicians in Kenya and Tanzania for example warning against any efforts to raise awareness of LGBTQ issues.