Ugandan politicians will still be allowed to attend this year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow despite a controversial new law banning homosexuality in the country, Scottish Government officials have confirmed to insidethegames.
The anti-gay rights bill, which passed through Ugandan Parliament in December but was only signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni last week, strengthens existing legislation against homosexuality in the central African country.
As well as introducing potential life sentences for “aggravated homosexuality”, which included sex with a minor or while HIV positive, it explicitly criminalises lesbianism for the first time and makes it a crime to help individuals engage in homosexual acts.
Amid widespread international disapproval and sanctions on Uganda, Scottish cyclist Graham Obree has begun a petition, entitled “No Hate at the Games”, calling for a ban on Ugandan politicians attending Glasgow 2014.
After beginning by outlining how “life for gay people in Uganda is downright scary”, the petition calls for the Games to “rightly celebrates the sacrifice, skills and supreme efforts of the athletes and representing nations” but also “take a stand against those who stir up hate”.
It concludes: “In days, Lord Smith and the Organising Committee will begin inviting dignitaries – let’s call on them to make sure that Ugandan politicians who backed this bill are off that list, and tell them they are not welcome in the VIP boxes of our country.”
Since being launched yesterday, Obree’s petition is already closing in on 500 supporters, yet it seems unlikely it will be successful.
This is because participation at Glasgow 2014 is determined solely by membership of the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), and any member nation or territory is eligible to participate.
In a statement to insidethegames, a Scottish Government spokesman claimed “Scotland will welcome all visitors to Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games in 2014”.
“The Scottish Government has a clear position on promoting equal rights and has recently legislated to allow same sex marriage,” it said.
“We are proud of our stance in relation to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and have recently announced plans for Pride House in Glasgow during the Games.
“No one from any part of the Commonwealth who visits Scotland will be under any doubt about our values as a welcoming, open and tolerant society.
“In that respect the Games will be a force for good and we hope it will help the process of changing outdated and intolerant views wherever they still exist across all nations.
“We are working with Police Scotland and other partners are discussing how best to facilitate peaceful protest during the Commonwealth Games.”
This follows statements in a similar vein last year by both the Organising Committee and the CGF – who told insidethegames that until a country specifically outlaws an athlete competing, or does something which would directly affect sport, it is unlikely action will be taken.
But there have also been calls for gay Ugandans to be offered asylum in Scotland when they attend the Games.
Although there was huge international condemnation of laws in Russia banning the “promotion of non-traditional sexual relations” ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, laws in Uganda and other Commonwealth countries are arguably more severe, with 40 of the 53 member nations having some kind of law persecuting same sex relationships.
The Ugandan bill has prompted particular condemnation with the World Bank, Norway and Denmark withholding or diverting aid thought to total around $110 million (£65 million/€80 million) as a result.
The United States, the biggest Western donor to Uganda, is also reviewing its ties.
But, the signing of the bill into law was greeted with cheers by Ugandan officials and lawmaker David Bahati, who first introduced the bill, has said aid cuts are a price worth paying to protect the moral values of the nation.
Since the bill appeared there have already been reports of gay people being persecuted and – after a Ugandan newspaper last week began outing those it called the country’s “top homos” – it is thought a small number have fled the country.
The law has also received support from two other African leaders who have led their country out of the Commonwealth.
According to local newspaper The Herald, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said that Uganda was “fighting a just fight” by rejecting the “notion peddled by countries such as the United States that gay rights were human rights”.
Gambian ruler Yahya Jammeh meanwhile, who led his country out in protest of it being a “neo-colonial institution ” last October, was quoted last month as calling all homosexuals “vermin”.