The Guardian has published cables from the US Embassy regarding Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill. In this, you get an interesting look inside US policy on this issue.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 KAMPALA 001413 SIPDIS
E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/12/24
TAGS: PHUM, PGOV, PREL, UG
SUBJECT: UGANDA: HOMOPHOBE EXTREMISTS AND HOMOSEXUAL SCAPEGOATS
REF: 09 KAMPALA 01381; 09 KAMPALA 1409; 09 KAMPALA 1396 09 KAMPALA 01024
CLASSIFIED BY: Aaron Sampson, Pol/Econ Chief, State, Pol/Econ; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)
1. (C) Summary: Parliamentary sponsor of the anti-homosexuality bill, David Bahati, told PolOffs on December 15 that he is open to minor changes to his legislation, expressed deep disappointment with Rick Warren and others’ statements against the bill, and said Uganda will not yield to international pressure. On December 18, Bahati and Pastor Martin Ssempa dominated a one-sided “consultative meeting” on the bill organized by the Uganda Human Rights Commission with UN funding. Bahati directly challenged the White House statement against the bill, and said impending oil revenues will soon liberate Uganda from international influence. Members of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee continue to maintain that the anti-homosexuality bill is not a priority and will not come up for debate in committee until March or April 2011. However, domestic pressure on parliamentarians is growing. XXXXXXXXXXXX
2. (C) PolOffs met with Bahati on December 15 to provide recent statements by Rick Warren and others against the anti-homosexuality bill. At Bahati’s request, the meeting occurred at the Anglican Church of Uganda’s headquarters where Bahati said he was reviewing the legislation with Anglican Church leaders. XXXXXXXXXXXX Bahati entered our meeting with a document entitled “The 10 Deadly Sins of Homosexuality”, and launched into a lengthy explanation of the current bill, saying it renders existing law more specific by defining homosexuality and attaching penalties for homosexual “recruitment”. He criticized international donors for short circuiting Uganda’s democratic procedures when it is in their interest, said demands to withdraw the legislation outright are unacceptable, and ridiculed recent threats by Sweden to cut its assistance (ref. A). Bahati attributed international criticism to a misreading of the text and a misunderstanding of the “situation on the ground” in Uganda.
3. (U) Bahati described the bill as a “proposal”, solicited recommendations for “improving” the legislation, and appeared moderately open to altering provisions regarding the death penalty and requirements to report homosexual activity to authorities within 24 hours. Bahati said he personally does not believe in the death penalty and that this language was lifted directly from Uganda’s 2007 Defilement Act. He said he is talking with XXXXXXXXXXXX about the bill’s impact on HIV/AIDS programs, but that he does not believe the legislation will negatively impact HIV/AIDS prevention. Although Bahati claimed the bill is intended to further protect minors from sexual predators, he seemed unaware and unconcerned that his bill’s “aggravated homosexuality” provision also condemns to death “serial offenders” twice convicted of the lesser and much more vague infractions of “homosexuality” and “related offenses”.
4. (C) Bahati expressed profound disappointment with Rick Warren’s letter against the billXXXXXXXXXXXX and said Ugandan church leaders are in the process of drafting a response. XXXXXXXXXXXX Bahati hoped Parliament’s Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee will take up the bill in February 2010, but said his overriding goal is to see the bill into law – and he stressed that the bill will become law – by the February 2011 elections.
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5. (C) Bahati’s reasoning for introducing the bill alternated between protecting children from sexual predators, eradicating Uganda of homosexuality, and some combination of the two. He claimed to have evidence documenting the homosexual recruitment of children, particularly in same sex schools and churches, and said the bill’s provisions on reporting suspected homosexuality specifically target school masters and religious leaders. When asked to elaborate on evidence of supposed homosexual recruitment, Bahati referred to a XXXXXXXXXXXX pamphlet distributed in Uganda in 2002 that mentioned same-sex attraction, vague activities of unnamed foreign NGOs, and “networking” among foreign diplomats. At the end of the meeting, Bahati noted that he is also the Chairman of the Uganda Boy Scouts and is working on another bill – the second of his short Parliamentary career – updating Uganda’s 1963 Scouts Act. We did not ask if this bill will also target homosexuality.
One-Sided Human Rights Debate
6. (C) On December 18, the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) organized – with support from the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights – what turned out to be a one-sided debate on the anti-homosexuality bill. XXXXXXXXXXXX Prior to the debate PolOff received a text message from XXXXXXXXXXXX expressing concerns for the safety of XXXXXXXXXXXX representatives scheduled to attend the event. Bahati’s late arrival delayed the event for more than an hour, and the UHRC failed to seat any representative of those opposed to the legislation at the head table, despite seating Bahati and – for unexplained reasons – Uganda’s most outspoken anti-gay activist Martin Ssempa. A comment by an audience member later prompted the UHRC to correct this imbalance by inviting a clearly hesitant and nervous SMUG leader, David Kato, to sit beside Ssempa on the dais. Ssempa proceeded to shake Kato’s hand while striking absurd poses for the assembled press corps.
7. (C) Bahati’s remarks mirrored his private statements to PolOffs. Bahati also attacked the White House statement opposing the bill, saying that he admires President Obama, that President Obama ran on a platform of change, and that Uganda’s message to him is that “homosexuality is not a change but rather an evil that we must fight.” At this point the room erupted in loud applause, led by Ssempa pounding his hand on the head table, and Bahati observed that oil revenues will free Uganda of foreign entanglements. At other points in Bahati’s tirade against homosexuality, Ssempa registered his support by issuing audible sounds of disgust.
8. (C) Kato delivered a well-written speech defending the rights of gay and lesbians in Uganda. However, his words were nearly indecipherable due to his evident nervousness. Throughout Kato’s speech, XXXXXXXXXXXX UHRCXXXXXXXXXXXX openly joked and snickered with Bahati and Ssempa XXXXXXXXXXXX. XXXXXXXXXXXX representatives left shortly after Kato’s speech, fearing that Bahati had instructed the Inspector General of Police to arrest Kato. After a break, Ssempa showed graphic x-rated photos of what he described as gay sex, and several audience members rose to ask why authorities did not arrest Ugandan homosexuals when they had the chance. XXXXXXXXXXXX
Buturo – He’s Back
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Parliamentary Debate in March or April
10. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX reaffirmed that Bahati’s bill is not a priority and that debate on the legislation will likely not begin until March or April 2011 (ref. C). Key bills on election reform, political party funding, and the International Criminal Court are already pending before XXXXXXXXXXX. XXXXXXXXXXXX said pressure to move the anti-homosexuality bill to the front of the line is “disturbing” committee members, but XXXXXXXXXXXX and take a skeptical view of anti-homosexuality legislation.
11. (C) Bahati tried to shift the bill from the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee to the more favorable Presidential and Foreign Affairs Committee on December 15 but failed as there is no provision in Parliament to re-assign legislation from one committee to another. XXXXXXXXXXXX said the bill “has no place in our modern world”, and XXXXXXXXXXXX
12. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX told PolOff XXXXXXXXXXXX. In September, Otunnu accused state security services of running a smear campaign about his sexual orientation and HIV status to discredit a potential presidential bid (ref. D). XXXXXXXXXXXX speculated that Uganda could run a similar smear campaign against Besigye, forcing him to curtail presidential campaign activities.
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13. (SBU) XXXXXXXXXXXX said the opposition FDC fears Uganda will use the anti-homosexuality legislation against Besigye, and recalled government efforts to hobble Besigye’s 2006 presidential campaign by arresting him on spurious charges of rape, terrorism, and treason. XXXXXXXXXXXX speculated that Uganda could disrupt Besigye’s 2011 campaign with phony homosexuality allegations.
Comment: Homophobic Demagogues
14. (C) Recent condemnations by Warren and other U.S. based individuals have further isolated Bahati. His homophobia, however, is blinding and incurable. Bahati, Buturo, and particularly Ssempa’s ability to channel popular anger over Uganda’s socio-political failings into violent hatred of a previously unpopular but tolerated minority is chilling. XXXXXXXXXXXX described Ssempa as an anti-homosexuality “extremist.” XXXXXXXXXXXX said he opposes the legislation not because he favors homosexuality, but because legalizing persecution of homosexuals is the first step toward state sponsored persecution of other minority groups. On December 22, XXXXXXXXXXXX asked PolOff if the U.S. could provide an expert speaker to reinforce arguments exposing the human rights ramifications of Bahati’s legislation in advance of parliamentary hearings. Helping those attempting to counter Bahati, Buturo, and Ssempa to better craft their arguments – perhaps through a digital video conference or some other venue – is worth pursuing.