Best not: Uganda contemplates death penalty for gay people

Good, better, best never let them rest, until the good is better, and the better is best.This chant was always a favourite for me and my sisters when we were little- not just because it is delightfully, if simplistically, phonetically pleasing in a jaunty symmetrical way, but also because it implies some sort of timeless progression towards perfection- it underlines the idea that onwards is upwards and that things can only get better- all of which seem to me to be some variation on a paraphrasing of any one of a dozen ‘90s pop songs- what an optimistic age. 

However, working at Amnesty, or indeed just reading the news, we are all too often reminded that societies are not always destined to improve. That things can get worse, and that sometimes, all too depressingly, we can observe a regressive decline in standards- a reversal to archaic stereotyping and prejudice, which a country had all but escaped previously. 

Such is the case in Uganda. That the parliament is today considering a Bill which would introduce the death penalty for people found, or suspected to be having, a gay relationship is utterly depressing and a reversion to an age which so many societies have consigned to the history books. 

Under the terms of the Bill, it would be an offence for anyone who is aware of any violations of the Bill’s provisions not to report them to the relevant authorities within 24 hours- a proposal which would lead to a nightmarish state, where neighbour turns on neighbour. The Bill would also criminalise the “promotion of homosexuality,” which would jeopardise the legitimate work of national and international activists and organisations working to defend and promote human rights in Uganda.  

Today we wrote a press release together with Human Right Watch, which outlined our severe concerns about the Bill, which might be put to the vote as soon as today. The primary fear is that- even the public debate of such a Bill- condones violence and vigilante attacks in Uganda against gay people. In January the gay rights activist David Kato was brutally murdered for opposing homophobia and for taking on the media which sought to inflame hatred of LGBT people in the country. 

It is sad that such a brave man was killed in his pursuit of tackling state-endorsed hatred and prejudice against a group of people who pose absolutely no threat to the country, and who are vilified purely on the basis of their sexual orientation. Sad that a country can retreat to contemplating such a spiteful and archaic Bill in this day and age. But like David Kato, other members of the gay community there remain defiant and convinced that in the end, progress can be achieved. Good, better, best- it is hard to envisage today, but, they all laughed at Christopher Columbus once upon a time.

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