Andrew M. Potts
The Australian Government failed to confront Uganda at last month’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Trinidad and Tobago over the Anti-Homosexuality Bill currently before Uganda’s parliament.
The EU, Britain, France, the United States and Canada have all condemned the bill, as have many international human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
The bill punishes the slightest expression of same-sex intimacy with life imprisonment, while HIV positive GLBTs will be eligible for the death penalty. Condom use is not a mitigating factor.
The bill also outlaws any advocacy on behalf of GLBT people, while any Ugandan entering into a same-sex marriage will be jailed for life, and friends and relatives of homosexual people will be jailed for up to three years for failing to denounce a loved one.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper voiced their opposition directly to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni during the summit.
But the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed that Foreign Minister Stephen Smith did not meet with his Ugandan counterpart, nor did
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd raise the issue with Museveni during CHOGM.
However, a departmental spokesperson said the issue was now on the Government’s radar.
“The Government is deeply concerned about the draft Anti-Homosexuality private member’s bill before the Ugandan parliament”, the spokesperson wrote in a statement.
“The Australian High Commission in Nairobi has been instructed to raise the Australian Government’s concerns about the contents of the bill with the Ugandan Government.
“The Government believes that people are entitled to respect, dignity and the opportunity to participate in society and receive the protection of the law regardless of their sexuality.”
Uganda’s Minister for Ethics, Nsaba Buturo, recently told a gathering in Kampala that his Government would not be swayed by international pressure.
“Our values are more important than their aid,” Buturo said.
Rwanda, a country which has proposed similar draconian laws, was welcomed into the Commonwealth of Nations at this year’s meeting with the support of Australia and other leading countries in the group. It is only the second non-former British colony to be admitted to the Commonwealth.
Australia will host the next CHOGM in 2011 in Perth after beating Sri Lanka in its bid to host the forum.