Uganda update: Anti-Homosexuality Bill on tomorrow's agenda; committee report suggests amendments; bill pushed to Friday

UPDATE: (5/11, 6:00pm ET) – There are quite a few stories being narrated surrounding today’s session in the Ugandan parliament. The AP describes a walkout by female MPs over the Marriage and Divorce bill which left the plenary session without a quorum. If not for that action, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill might have been debated and passed.

For additional updates, click here…

UPDATE: (5/11, 12:10pm ET) – Parliament spokeswoman Helen Kawesa just told me that Parliament has adjourned but will reconvene on Friday to consider the remaining bills on the agenda. They will begin in the morning and work until all of the bills are considered. The intent is to address all bills. The AHB is the last one and is the most vulnerable but with an all day session, it is possible for it to get a third reading. According to Kawesa, Friday is absolutely the last day however as the new Parliament is sworn in on Monday.

According to bill author, David Bahati, the Parliament will meet at 10am and address the remaining four bills on the current order paper. He declined to predict the response of the Parliament but felt sure that the bill would get a debate and discussion.

UPDATE: (5/11, 10:16am EST) – There is a new order paper on the Parliament website. A spokeswoman said that the original paper left off the AHB but that it will be the last bill discussed today. The AP also reported that the AHB had been left off. Regarding whether or not the bill can come back up without reintroduction, there is conflicting information which I am attempting to clarify.

UPDATE: 12:50pm Kampala, 5/11) – I just spoke with Ranny Ismail, spokeswoman for Parliament, who told me that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is still in committee. The report on the bill is indeed complete but in their procedure, the bill is still considered in committee and is not on the agenda for business today. However, she said that Parliament could carry forward all unfinished business in all committees if a member makes a motion to do so and it passes. She says this has happened before. This information is in contrast to what committee chair Stephen Tashobya told me on several occasions, although I assume now that he was addressing the fate of the AHB specifically if a motion to continue is not made. Because she was unsure about the fate of such a motion, she said she would not know the final outcome until about 7pm in Kampala.

UPDATE: (noon in Kampala, 5/11) – The order paper for Parliament’s session is now up but it does not mention the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. A relatively new bill – The Uganda National Meteorological Authority Bill, 2010 – has been added to the agenda along with the bills left over from Monday and Tuesday. Did the international pressure, both public and private, make a difference?

UPDATE: (noon, 5/10) – I just spoke with Helen Kawesa, Public Relations Manager of Uganda’s Parliament. She told me that Stephen Tashobya, Chair of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee completed his report on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.  When I asked her if the AHB would be on Wednesday’s agenda, she said,

All indications show that it should be coming up tomorrow. The committee has finalized its reports so they are ready to table it tomorrow and discuss it in the House.

She said one bill passed today which moved the Company and Marriage and Divorce bills to tomorrow as well.  Regarding the duration of tomorrow’s session, Kawesa added, ”if there is business that they have to conclude they will push it to late, eight or nine o’clock.”

The report of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee will be made public tomorrow during the session. Ms. Kawesa said she did not know the details but that some changes were made. “They found a few things to remove here and there that were extreme, but I don’t know exactly which ones.”

With the committee report filed, the only obstacle to the AHB getting a vote is the duration of the parliamentary session tomorrow. The willingness of the Speaker of the House to keep Parliament in session and vote on all bills is the unknown at this point.

Committee suggests changes in the bill

Not long after speaking with Ms. Kawesa, I spoke with AHB author David Bahati who told me that the death penalty had been removed from the bill in the committee report. He said that the plank criminalizing “attempted homosexuality” had been removed, with penalties for same-sex intimacy reduced from the current life sentence, although he said he did not know what the new penalties were. Committee chair Tashobya was not available for comment.

(See below for the initial post from this morning)

….

On today’s agenda (called an order paper) for Uganda’s Parliament, the planned business for tomorrow is also listed. On that agenda is the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

NOTICE OF BUSINESS TO FOLLOW

1.                  BILLS SECOND READING

I)                THE HIV AND AIDS PREVENTION AND CONTROL BILL, 2010

II)              THE ANTI HOMOSEXUALITY BILL, 2009

The business listed does not always come up or get a vote. However, this listing signals that the bill is in play and could get a second reading. Bills have to read three times and third readings often take place during the same session as the second. According to procedure, a bill is presented to Parliament with a report from the relevant committee, in this case the Legal and Parliamentary Affairds committee. Any suggestions for amendment are raised and discussed by the lawmakers. Any changes agreed to by the members will become part of the bill and the bill is read a third time with changes and the bill becomes law.

From there, the bill goes to the President. He can send the bill back to Parliament with requests for changes, or he can simply allow the bill to become law by assent. Committee chair Stephen Tashobya told me months ago that President Museveni has not returned a bill to Parliament during his term.

I will be adding to this post as the day goes on…

There are now two petitions to the Ugandan government that are spreading rapidly across the web.

This one has over 250,000 signatures – AllOut – and is addressed to President Museveni

And this one – Avaaz.org – is all over Twitter now with over 650,000 signatures. (It has been down a few times that I have tried to get to it. I suspect the traffic is overwhelming the site. It is up now).

On the Avaaz.org petition, there is something not quite right about the description:

We’ve helped stop this bill before, and we can do it again. After a massive global outcry last year, Ugandan President Museveni blocked the bill’s progress. But political unrest is mounting in Uganda, and religious extremists in Parliament are hoping confusion and violence in the streets will distract the international community from a second push to pass this hate-filled law. We can show them that the world is still watching. If we block the vote for two more days until Parliament closes, the bill will expire forever.

The bill was never really stopped, but that is not the item I am concerned about. According to Stephen Tashobya, the bill is not really dead until May 18. If the Speaker wants to bring the Parliament together to consider the bill, he can do so, even after tomorrow. While that seems unlikely, it is possible. Also, the next Parliament begins the same day that the old one ends. There is nothing to prevent Bahati from bringing a version of the AHB back if he gets leave from Parliament to table another private member’s bill.

Many opponents are posting updates at the Facebook group – Speak out against Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009.

From BoxTurtleBulletin:

GetEqual has announced a protest for this afternoon from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. at the Ugandan Embassy, 5911 15th Street NW in Washington, D.C. (map). Says GetEqual: “Please bring signs, banners, and your best protest chants Tuesday afternoon to the Ugandan Embassy as we let Uganda know that we stand in solidarity LGBT Ugandans, their families and friends, and we will not sit idly by while Members of Parliament debate whether to imprison or kill them.”

If you can’t make it to the protest in person, you can call, write, and/or fax the Ugandan Ambassador to the United States. Please be polite, but firm. The contact information is:

His Excellency Professor Perezi K. Kamunanwire

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary

Tel: (202) 726 4758

Fax: (202) 726 1727

pkamunanwire@ugandaembassyus.org

The UK is lobbying Uganda against the AHB according to this article from Pink News.

UPDATE (5:30pm 5/10): Speaking of pink, today Norbert Mao opposition presidential candidate was sprayed with pink dye and arrested in yet more clashes with police. Police said the dye was used to mark those involved in the protest.

(Left – PINK SHOWER: A supporter shields former presidential candidate Walter Lubega (R) from water sprayed by the police in Kampala yesterday. PHOTO BY STEPHEN WANDERA)

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