by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
An online petition urging Uganda's parliament to withdraw its notorious Anti-Homosexual Bill was presented to the Ugandan government on March 1, activists say.
The petition, which has collected at least a half-million signatures so far, says:
'To President Museveni of Uganda, Members of the Review Committee, and donor governments:
'We stand with citizens across Uganda who are calling on their government to withdraw the Anti-Homosexual Bill, and to protect the universal human rights embodied in the Ugandan constitution. We urge Uganda's leaders and donors to join us in rejecting persecution and upholding values of justice and tolerance.'
The petition campaign was organized by Avaaz.org, an international online activist organization that advocates for human rights, religious tolerance, and environmental responsibility.
The petition is still available for signing at the Avaaz.org website. The goal is to collect one million signatures.
"Avaaz" means "voice" in several Middle Eastern languages. Avaaz.org is supported by Res Publica, MoveOn.org, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of the largest US labor organizations.
Avaaz.org campaign director Alice Jay told Voice of America that her organization became involved in the petition drive "after receiving numerous requests from concerned Ugandans."
"The strongest critics of this came from within Uganda and one of them said very clearly, 'There is homophobia in Uganda like in most of the world. But we do not want our laws to be based on it,'" Jay said.
The petition was delivered by several Ugandan human rights activists, including Gay rights advocate Frank Mugisha, and two controversial Anglican clergymen, Bishop Christopher Ssemyonjo and Canon Gideon Byamugisha.
Ssenyonjo was excommunicated by the Church of Uganda in 2006 because of his support for Gay rights, and now leads an independent congregation.
Byamugisha is an Anglican priest who in 1992 became the first religious leader in Africa to declare that he was HIV-positive.
Byamugisha charged that the proposed bill - which provides the death penalty for "serial offender" Gays and for HIV-positive men who have sex - violates Ugandan values.
The bill "is violating our cultures, traditions and religious values that teach against intolerance, injustice, hatred and violence," he said on the Avaaz.org website.
"We need laws to protect people - not ones that will humiliate, ridicule, persecute and kill them en masse."
The proposed bill has been condemned by Anglican leaders like Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, and Archbishop of York John Sentamu, who was born in Uganda.
The Anglican Church of Uganda supports it, however.
Archbishop of Uganda Henry Orombi issued a statement saying that "homosexual practice has no place in God's design of creation, the continuation of the human race through procreation, or His plan of redemption."
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, bill sponsor David Bahati, and anti-Gay pastor Martin Ssempa have all been linked to prominent US evangelical groups.
Museveni and Bahati are reportedly protégés of The Family - also known as The Fellowship or The C Street Group - a secretive organization of right-wing Christian politicians. Ssempa was an associate of pastor Rick Warren till Warren disavowed the Anti-Homosexual Bill last November.
President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and European Union leaders have also condemned the bill. The U.S. State Department has reportedly extracted a commitment from President Museveni that the bill would not be enacted.
Several governments have threatened to withdraw aid to Uganda if the bill becomes law.
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