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Uganda's Museveni Signs Anti-Gay Bill, Defying Donors, Washington

posted 24 Feb 2014, 10:02 by Mpelembe   [ updated 24 Feb 2014, 10:03 ]

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signs into law an anti-gay bill that toughens already strict legislation against homosexuals, defying warnings from the United States that relations could be complicated by the new rules.

 KAMPALAUGANDA (FEBRUARY 24, 2014) (REUTERS) - Uganda's president signed a law imposing harsh penalties for homosexuality on Monday (February 24), defying protests from rights groups, criticism from Western donors and a U.S. warning that it will complicate relations.

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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 criminalised 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.

"For someone to be homosexual it's a combination of some genetic, but mainly external factors, like influence and so on and so forth, so that one has been answered. Secondly, we do not want anyone interfering with our internal affairs, finished. Those are the two principles, the rest is just details we can always study that," said Museveni.

The legislation exposes the wide gulf between the continent's often culturally conservative administrations and many of the foreign donor states that support them.

Gay and lesbian organisations 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.

Homosexuality is taboo in almost all African countries and illegal in 37 - including Uganda, where rights groups say gay people have long risked jail. Few Africans are openly gay, as they fear violence, imprisonment and loss of their jobs.

The law comes a week after U.S. President Barack Obama said the legislation would be "a step backward for all Ugandans" and warned it would complicate relations.

Museveni said last week he was putting the bill on hold to give scientists a chance to prove that homosexuality could be triggered by genes and was not a "lifestyle choice". They found no such evidence, Museveni said.

"My original argument was - my original sympathy was - that these people are born like that. But, we are being told that: 'No, no, no!' Even the people I was talking to in the West, in the end they told me that there is no scientific basis for homosexuality and that it is all a matter of choice. Really! So, when I was fighting I was fighting a wrong war, because for me I thought they must be born like that, how can you leave something good and you go for something so bad. It must be that you're having a problem," he said at the news conference on Monday.

A senior Obama administration official had said the United States would review relations with Uganda if the law was enacted. Washington is one of Uganda's largest donors, sending more than 400 million USD a year.