Uganda drops death penalty for homosexuals

The death penalty provision of an anti-gay bill in Uganda has been dropped, it has been reported on Friday, and Members of the Ugandan Parliament have immediately moved to endorse the amended legislature.

Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga has described the amendment as a "Christmas gift" to gay advocates, who have long campaigned against Uganda's strict anti-homosexuality laws. The African country is one of the only places in the world where all homosexual activity is still illegal, and the proposed bill before it was changed even sought to make it a crime worthy of capital punishment.

"I can tell you it has 99 percent chance. It will pass. No question about it," James Nsaba Buturo, the country's former ethics minister and leader of the Coalition for Advancement of Moral Values, which supports the bill, previously said.

"If there was any leader in this country who sympathizes with homosexuality, he will not say it in public. Because he knows that Ugandans, by and large, do not support that way of life," Buturo added.

Uganda has remained defiant against foreign pressure to loosen its stance, even with a number of world leaders threatening to cut aid to the African country if it does not respect international human rights laws.

With public opinion still poised against homosexuality, the bill, which seeks to establish several penalties for those found engaging in homosexual activities, has received strong support from locals. Over 80 percent of Ugandans are Christians, split between the Catholic and Anglican faiths – which is where their objection to homosexuality stems from.

The current bill, proposed by MP David Bahati, calls for longer jail terms for homosexual acts, including a life sentence in certain circumstances, the BBC reported. The death penalty provision would have been applied to those convicted of "aggravated homosexuality," defined as when one of the participants is either a minor, HIV-positive, disabled or a serial offender.

The full details behind the new amendment are not yet known, but another provision on the original bill prohibited any promotion of gay rights, and sought to punish those who "fund or sponsor homosexuality."

MP Medard Segona, who confirmed to the BBC that the death penalty was dropped, added that "some of us who are human rights activists would discourage the death penalty."

Before the legislature is passed into law, its provisions and amendments are expected to be debated at the parliament sometime before the end of the year. President Yoweri Museveni will also have to put his signature on it – and intense international pressure could still cause him to reconsider.