Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni enacted a law that imposes tougher penalties on gays including life imprisonment for some homosexual acts, ignoring international criticism of the decision.
Museveni signed the law to applause at a ceremony at State House in Entebbe, 32 kilometers (20 miles) southwest of the capital, Kampala, that was attended by government ministers, legislators and scientists. Denmark announced it will withdraw almost 50 million kroner ($9.2 million) of aid to the Ugandan government, while British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was “deeply saddened and disappointed” by the law.
“We reject the notion that someone can be homosexual by choice,” Museveni said at the ceremony. “Homosexuals have lost the argument in Uganda” after scientists had shown that homosexuality is not genetic, he said.
World leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama and South African Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu had urged Museveni not to sign the bill. Enacting the law would be “a step backward for all Ugandans and reflect poorly on Uganda’s commitment to protecting the human rights of its citizens,” Obama said in a Feb. 16 statement.
Uganda, Africa’s biggest coffee exporter with a $20 billion economy, relies on donor funding for about 20 percent of its annual budget. U.S. exports to the East African nation grew 25 percent to $125 million last year, according to U.S. Department of Commerce data.
The new law carries a life sentence for “aggravated homosexuality” involving sexual acts with a minor, as well as prison sentences for people who “exhibit going around behaving as if homosexuality is a normal practice,” Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo said today in a phone interview.
Museveni also signed a bill this month that bans “provocative” clothing, including short skirts, as well as pornography.
Fox Odoi, a lawmaker from Uganda’s ruling National Resistance Movement, said he plans to challenge the law in the country’s Constitutional Court.
“A free and democratic society should not regulate sex among consenting adults,” he said in an interview in Entebbe.
The law has been welcomed in Uganda by religious groups including the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, which said in a Feb. 19 statement that the legislation will “strengthen the fight against this foreign and inhuman act.”
Homosexuality is a crime in 38 of 54 sub-Saharan Africa nations, according to Amnesty International, the London-based human-rights group.