Uganda’s President, Yoweri Museveni, has signed a law imposing harsh penalties for homosexuality on Monday, defying protests from rights groups, criticism from Western donors and a U.S. warning that it will complicate relations.
The new bill strengthened existing punishments for anyone caught having gay sex, imposing jail terms of up to life for “aggravated homosexuality” – including sex with a minor or while HIV positive.
It criminalized lesbianism for the first time and made it a crime to help individuals engage in homosexual acts. Gay rights activists in Uganda said they planned a legal challenge.
Ugandan officials broke into loud applause as President Yoweri Museveni put his signature to the document in front of foreign journalists at his State House outside the capital.
“There’s now an attempt at social imperialism, to impose social values. We’re sorry to see that you (the West) live the way you live but we keep quiet about it,” he said.
The legislation exposes the wide gulf between the continent’s often culturally conservative administrations and many of the foreign donor states that support them. Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh last week called homosexuals “vermin”.
Western donors immediately criticized Uganda. Norway and Denmark said they were withholding or diverting aid money and Austria said it was reviewing assistance. Britain, a big donor, condemned the new law but did not mention aid cuts.
“I feel sick. The degrading words the president has use…my country is in a state of insanity right now,” said Ugandan gay activist, Kasha Nabagesera, adding that the gay community expected to challenge the bill in the courts.
Gay and lesbian organizations fear the bill will encourage other governments to strengthen penalties, increase harassment, discourage people from taking HIV tests and make it impossible to live an openly gay life.
“Disapproval of homosexuality by some can never justify violating the fundamental human rights of others,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said in a statement.