The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Wednesday urged Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to block an anti-LGBTQ law passed this week that carries severe penalties, including death and life imprisonment.
“The passage of the discrimination law – perhaps the worst of its kind in the world – is a deeply worrying development,” said Volker Türk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a statement.
Uganda’s lawmakers passed the law on Tuesday in a lengthy plenary session that included last-minute changes to the legislation that originally provided for prison sentences of up to 10 years for homosexual offences.
As passed by the legislature, the offense of “aggravated homosexuality” – a broad term for same-sex sexual practices involving children or people with disabilities, serial offenders, or people living with HIV – is now punishable by the death penalty. Serious homosexuality applies in cases of sexual relations involving people living with HIV as well as minors.
Under the bill, a suspect convicted of “attempted serious homosexuality” could be sentenced to 14 years in prison, and the offense of “attempted homosexuality” could be punished up to 10 years.
In Washington, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said if the law goes into effect, the US would need to “closely review” imposing economic sanctions on Uganda. He noted that this would be “really unfortunate” since most US aid comes in the form of health aid, particularly aid to fight AIDS.
The law was introduced last month by an opposition lawmaker who said its goal was to punish “promotion, recruitment and funding” related to LGBTQ activity in the east African country, where homosexuals are widely vilified.
The crime of “homosexuality” is punishable by life imprisonment, the same penalty provided for in the colonial-era Penal Code, which criminalized sexual acts “against nature.”
The bill now goes to Museveni, who has 30 days to veto or sanction it. In a recent speech, he indicated he supports the legislation and accused unnamed Western countries of “imposing their practices on other people.”
White House press secretary Karen Jean-Pierre said Wednesday that the United States has “serious concerns” about the law, adding that it would hurt tourism and economic investment and “damage Uganda’s reputation.”
“No one should be attacked, arrested or killed just because they are or who they love,” added Jean-Pierre.
New York-based Human Rights Watch condemned the new law as another violation of Ugandans’ basic human rights.