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Uganda's parliament takes no action on anti-gay bill

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • The future of the widely condemned bill is uncertain
  • The bill would jeopardize the work of rights activists, Human Rights Watch says
  • If presented in the next session, it would have to start the legislative process anew
  • The U.S. government has described the bill as "odious"

(CNN) -- Uganda's parliament adjourned Friday without acting on a bill that would have made engaging in homosexual acts a capital offense, leaving the future of the widely condemned bill uncertain.

Though parliament's mandate ends May 18, next week has been reserved for the swearing in of new members. Friday's lack of action on the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill means that the issue will not be discussed this session.

The bill has been condemned internationally since October 2009, when it was introduced.

In addition to proposing the death penalty for certain gay acts, it proposed requiring anyone aware of violations of the bill to report them to the authorities within a day or face criminal sanction, said Human Rights Watch.

The bill would have criminalized "promotion of homosexuality," the organization said in a written statement. That would have jeopardized the work of promoters of human rights, it said.

The bill or an amended version of it could be presented in the next parliament, which is expected to open in June, Human Rights Watch said. But by then it would have to return to the beginning of the legislative process, the organization said.

"Today marks the end of a chapter in the fight to protect the rights of the LGBT community in Uganda but the struggle isn't over yet," said Graeme Reid, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Program at Human Rights Watch, "There's a real danger we might see this bill remerge in some form."

Amnesty International released a statement expressing relief over the lack of action on the bill, which proposed life in prison for marriage by same-sex couples.

"We are relieved that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was not passed into law today," said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International's deputy director for Africa. "This bill would have institutionalized the discrimination, including harassment and arbitrary arrests, that LGBT people in Uganda already face."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner on Thursday condemned the proposed bill as "odious."

He added that both President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "publicly said it is inconsistent with universal human rights standards and obligations."

Homosexuality is illegal in most countries in Africa, where sodomy laws were introduced during colonialism. In Uganda, homosexual acts are punishable by 14 years to life in prison, according to rights activists.