Last month, the African nation of Uganda proposed an anti-homosexuality bill, making anyone caught engaging in homosexuality liable to be sentenced to life in prison. Homosexuals, who are HIV positive and knowingly take part in a sexual act or engage in sex with an individual under the age of 18, are liable to be sentenced to death under the crime of “aggravated homosexuality”.

Speaker Edward Sekandi told Daily Monitor that the new legislation was necessary “to do whatever we can to stop” homosexuality in Uganda. “We don’t support that practice.”

However, the global response has been anything but supportive of the initiative.

Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch, said, “This draft bill is clearly an attempt to divide and weaken civil society by striking at one of its most marginalized groups.  The government may be starting here, but who will be next?”

The United States has said they will continue  President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) funding to Uganda despite the antigay violence.  QUEERTY, a gay blog, writes that the PEPFAR coordinator’s decision is  “…propping up a nation that still treats HIV as “the gay disease,” that further stigmatizez the queer community, and is now calling for the murder of anyone who dares involve themselves in same-sex sex.”

Truthwinsout.org comments on why they don’t support the PEPFAR decision. “HIV/AIDS in Uganda is primarily a heterosexual phenomenon; Goosby falsely contends that it is a homosexual phenomenon that threatens the “general population and the bill would criminalize key aspects of comprehensive HIV/AIDS prevention education and imprison health-care workers who refuse to report sexually active gay patients to the police.”

Uganda, the outgoing chair of the Commonwealth,  is expected to promote, among other issues, human rights as part of their membership in the international organization.

But, Times Online quoted Stephen Lewis, the former UN envoy on Aids in Africa, as saying Uganda’s bill goes against the Commonwealth’s principles, stating, “Nothing is as stark, punitive and redolent of hate as the Bill in Uganda.”

The proposed anti-homosexual bill also threatens anyone found promoting homosexuality or anyone who fails to report known homosexuality activity.

The bill is currently making its way through the country’s Parliament.

Homosexuality is illegal in most African countries.  Currently, South Africa is the only nation on the continent that legally allows gay marriage.

Rwanda’s Commonwealth Bid

November 26, 2009

Rwanda’s application to join the Commonwealth will be decided on at the end of this week.  It has been almost a year since the country applied to join the international grouping dominated by ex- British colonies in January 2008.  And there seems to be debate on how smoothly the vote to include Rwanda at the summit in Trinidad and Tobago will proceed.

In an article in Rwanda’s The New Times they report that ‘reliable sources say that all member states unanimously support Rwanda joining the group mainly composed of former British colonies.’

Meanwhile, AllAfrica.com’s John Allen blogs that New Delhi-based Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) writes, “Rwanda does not satisfy the test of Commonwealth values.  There are considerable doubts about the commitment of the current regime to human rights and democracy. It has not hesitated to use violence at home or abroad when it has suited it.”

Despite the issue of human rights violations, Canada is backing the admittance of Rwanda.  A spokesperson for Canada’s Foreign Affairs Department told AFP, “Canada would welcome the admission of Rwanda to the Commonwealth.”

There are currently 53 countries in the Commonwealth, which gives an equal platform to small and large nations to lobby for trade deals, influence world powers and leaders such as the World Trade Organization (WTO).

But Daniel Howden of The Independent alludes that there may have another reason for the African country wanting to become the 54 member of the Commonwealth. Blame over responsibility for the 1994 Rwanda genocide has caused France and Rwanda to severe ties over accusations of the others involvement, which ultimately led Rwanda to boycott the French language in support of English.  Howden reports in an article entitled ‘It’s really about Kigali getting back at Paris’ that “one cabinet minister in the capital, Kigali, was heard to remark that Rwanda must be allowed into the Commonwealth club of English-speaking nations because “French is a dying language and we want to be part of a living language”.