We write to register our strongest concern at the news that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2012, has been listed on the Order Papers for the Ugandan Parliament. We wish to add our voices to those of a global human rights community which has characterised this Bill as violating the basic human rights of a section of Uganda’s people, impeding their right to live and love without harm to others, in enjoyment of the rights of freedom and equality guaranteed by the Ugandan Constitution.
We write as citizens of South Asian countries, former British colonies that are also grappling with the multiple legacies of colonialism, of which the inheritance of homophobic laws is only one. We too have been told in our countries that homosexuality is a ‘Western import’ that is alien to our cultures. This claim flies in the face of a wealth of evidence of same-sex love and desire in our histories and cultures. It is a matter of fact that consensual same-sex love in our cultures, just as in parts of Africa, including Uganda, was accepted, and in some contexts, celebrated until the advent of the colonial experience. It is a claim that, moreover, is contradicted by the fact that section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, represented the most aggressive institutionalisation of the criminalisation of homosexuality in the history of the Indian subcontinent. It is this legislative initiative of an unrepresentative colonial state that was then replicated in only slightly modified forms in other colonies of the British state, including Uganda. It is homophobia, rather than homosexuality that is a colonial legacy. Today, we are engaged, along with our counterparts in other ex-British colonies, in an ongoing struggle against this legacy of colonialism, a struggle in which we have relied primarily on the activist labours of our people and on the moral and legal commitments of laws and Constitutions that we have given unto ourselves.
We share much with Uganda, including the legacies of struggle against colonial rule. As postcolonial states that are proud of their hard-won independence, we understand, share and support your commitment to realising and maintaining democratic decision making processes, in line with your Constitution and in the exercise of your sovereignty, unimpeded by the external world. And it is precisely for this reason that we ask you to revisit the decision to consider passing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law.
As numerous analyses and critical commentaries have shown, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is itself an externally sponsored initiative, drafted with considerable encouragement and advice from US-based evangelicals whose moral, theological and political agendas do not prioritise, or rather undermine the welfare of the entirety of Uganda’s people. In this context it is important to emphasise that the Bill disregards and devalues the lives of Uganda’s own people. We urge you to listen to those brave Ugandan voices in every walk of life who have stood up for basic human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people in Uganda without regard to considerations of tribe, region, religion, sex, nationality, disability, or sexuality.
Ugandans need no reminding of their own history, nor of the fact that Ugandan citizens are unanimous in their relief and gratitude that the dark days of civil war and strife have been left behind. In the early postcolonial history of Uganda, the regime of Idi Amin is rightly remembered with dread as one in which minority communities were scapegoated and turned into objects of hatred and violence as a means of distracting attention from broader societal ills. The result was a cycle of violence that brutalised not only those minority communities, but an entire society. Likewise, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is against not only the Constitutional rights of sexual minority communities, but an affront to the rights of the entirety of Ugandan society. We ask that these mistakes of the past not be repeated.
Finally, we reach out in solidarity against attempts at imperialist control over our political, moral, ethical and cultural lives. The irony of history is that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which is an instance of such attempts at control is being seen as evidence of the expression of sovereignty. To recognise the rights of all Ugandans to lives of dignity, equality and freedom of expression and assembly, by refusing the passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill would be the true assertion of sovereignty.