AUSTRALIAN Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has “serious concerns” about the new laws in Uganda that criminalise homosexuality with sentences of up to life imprisonment.

At a Senate hearing yesterday, Bishop read out at letter she wrote to her Ugandan counterpart on Wednesday to express the government’s concerns that new laws undermined basic human rights. Ugandan President Yoweri Musenveni had signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act into law on Monday.

“I call now for Uganda to reconsider the law and to exercise the upmost restraint in its enforcement,” Bishop wrote.

The news comes after Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek had earlier called on Prime Minister Tony Abbott to make Australia’s opposition to the laws known. She told the Star Observer that Labor condemned Uganda’s new anti-gay laws, saying they denied its LGBTI citizens the most basic human rights.

“In any situation there are a range of diplomatic options available and I think Julie Bishop should get advice from her department on the most effective diplomatic approach in this situation. What’s completely unacceptable is for the government to stay silent,” Plibersek told the Star Observer.

“I think everyday Australians should ring… Tony Abbott’s office and say it is unacceptable for the Australian Government to stay silent on this… especially when what is essentially a hit list has been published on the front page of Ugandan newspapers.”

The “hit list” Plibersek refers to is from the Ugandan tabloid newspaper Red Pepper, which this week published a list of the country’s 200 “leading homosexuals”.

Greens leader Christine Milne urged Abbott to be prepared to provide asylum to any LGBTI person fleeing Uganda.

“Tony Abbott has a moral obligation to condemn these horrific laws and to work with the global community to guarantee the safety of all those named as LGBTI in the Ugandan tabloid Red Pepper,” Milne said.

“If applications for asylum are received from any of the named 200 or others at risk Tony Abbott must guarantee their safety and provide permanent protection immediately.

“As well as facing life imprisonment, LGBTI people in Uganda now face a heightened and severe risk of homophobic violence. Prominent activist David Kato was killed after a previous list was published in 2011.”

Those sentiments were also shared by the newly launched Australian Equality Party, which called for all diplomatic ties to Uganda to be cut and for the government to strengthen travel advice warning homosexual people not travel to the country.

Leaders around the world, including US president Barack Obama, have also indicated they will reconsider their relationships with the African country, and the World Bank has also reportedly postponed a $90m loan to Uganda’s health system.

The Netherlands has stopped around $11 million in aid money which was intended for Uganda’s legal system, while Norway and Denmark have also indicated they will redirect aid directly to human rights groups, rather than the government. UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has said he was left “deeply saddened and disappointed’’ over the law’s signing-in.

The condemnation of the laws by global leaders come as there are reports that one gay man has already been killed after being targeted over his sexuality.

During the signing-in that took place at Musenveni’s official State House residence in Entebbe, the Ugandan president said he had received scientific advice that proved gay people were “disgusting” and “mercenaries”. The new law also makes it a crime for any individual or organisation to assist or support LGBTI people or work on LGBTI issues.

“Homosexuals are actually mercenaries. They are heterosexual people but because of money they say they are homosexuals. These are prostitutes because of money,’’ Musenveni said.

“No study has shown you can be homosexual by nature.

“That man can choose to love a man… is a matter of choice. After listening to the scientists, I got the facts.

“Can somebody be homosexual simply by nature? The answer is no.’’

In recent years, the country of about 37 million has seen an upsurge in American-style evangelical Christian churches.

The Star Observer has contacted the Foreign Minister ‘s office for further comment. Meanwhile, PM Tony Abbott is yet to make  a comment on the issue.



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