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U.S. officials dispute media reports on Uganda anti-gay bill

CHRIS JOHNSON | Washington Blade
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
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U.S. officials offered a different account about the status of a draconian anti-gay bill in Uganda on Tuesday, saying the legislation had yet to move out of committee and disputing earlier media reports and State Department comments by saying the panel is incapable of removing the infamous death penalty provision from the legislation.

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In an email to the Washington Blade on Tuesday, an informed source at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala said the bill is still in committee. That contradicts media reports on the bill — which imposes a penalty of life in prison for homosexual acts — that indicated the Legal & Parliamentary Affairs Committee had reported out the bill last week.

Additionally, the embassy source, who asked not to be named, said that the committee can only compile a report on the bill for recommendations to the bill, and can’t make changes to it, such as removing the death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality,” which media sources reported has been removed. An earlier version of the bill defined “aggravated homosexuality” as someone with HIV engaging in homosexual acts, having homosexual sex with a minor or the repeated offense of homosexuality.

Nicole Thompson, a State Department spokesperson, affirmed on Tuesday when speaking with the Washington Blade over the phone that the legislation had yet to pass in committee.

“As with all domestic legislation, it’s up to the Ugandan Parliament to determine whether or not to move forward with a bill,” Thompson said. “The bill is currently in committee and has not yet reached the full parliament for consideration.”

On Monday, Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokesperson, affirmed media reports that the bill had passed committee, saying during a daily press briefing, “Our understanding is that a version of the bill has now passed the committee in Uganda.” Thompson on Tuesday said Nuland may have misspoke when making those comments.

Thompson referred questions about whether the committee has authority to make changes to the legislation or take out the death penalty provision to the Uganda government. Additionally, she said she couldn’t answer questions about expectations for the timing of when the bill might pass out of committee and be taken up by the full parliament.

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