By Walubiri Moses
Ugandan vice president, Edward Ssekandi has allayed the fears of the British government that some of the Bills currently under consideration by Parliament are intended to roll back civil liberties and trammel the rights of minorities in the country.
In particular, some of Uganda’s development partners have expressed reservations about the Public Order Management Bill and the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which they deem is an attempt to gag dissenting voices and persecute gays respectively.
In a meeting at his office with British home office minister for equality, Lynne Choona Featherstone Thursday last week, Ssekandi reiterated government’s commitment to enacting laws that do not infringe on the inalienable rights of Ugandans.
Featherstone had sought to understand if the Anti-homosexuality Bill will be laced with punitive clauses against consenting adult gays.
She also expressed her reservations about peaceful demonstrators being barred from some places like near the precincts of Parliament, courts and government buildings, which, according to her, are veritable centers of power.
“Of what effect will a demonstration have in a place where it will not be noticed?” she queried.
Ssekandi said the Public Order Management Bill is tailored to organizing public gatherings by delineating the roles of the police, those in attendance and organizers, and not to take away the right to assembly or peaceful demonstration.
“Many people think that a demonstration is not peaceful unless it turns riotous. We need this Bill so that the roles of all stakeholders are clearly defined so that rights of other Ugandans are not violated by demonstrators,” Ssakandi said.
On the touchy issue of the anti-homosexuality bill and the attendant gay rights, the VP noted that “homosexuality is alien to our culture.”
However, he admitted that the mooted death penalty is harsh and will be dropped.
Sssekandi also assured Featherstone that Uganda has made giant leaps in women empowerment especially through the enactment of affirmative action laws.
He noted that although women are largely the victims of domestic violence, men too, in some circumstances had been subjected to abuse by their spouses.
The Domestic Relations Bill and Anti Torture Bill currently before Parliament will come in handy in stemming instances of violence in a family setting.
President Yoweri Museveni told British politicians in February that homosexuality is illegal in Uganda but people who are gay are neither persecuted nor discriminated against.
He also noted that it would be a big mistake if Western leaders decided to tie future development aid to sexual identity issues, including the rights of gays.