Uganda defends anti-gay law at main U.N. rights forum

GENEVA Thu Mar 6, 2014 10:12am EST

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GENEVA (Reuters) - Uganda, under fire from Western nations, defended its toughened law on gays on Thursday as being aimed at "protecting" youth from homosexuality and discouraging public displays of gay love.

The legislation, signed last month, strengthened punishments for anyone caught having gay sex, imposing jail terms of up to life for "aggravated homosexuality" - including sex with a minor or while HIV-positive. It also criminalizes lesbianism for the first time.

Ambassador Christopher Onyanga Aparr told the United Nations Human Rights Council that sexual orientation was "not a fundamental human right" as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a landmark 1948 treaty.

"It is important to underscore the fact that the law is not intended to discriminate, persecute or punish homosexuals by the sheer fact of their sexual orientation. Rather the law is aimed at protecting and defending Ugandan society from social disorientation," he said.

Onyanga Aparr said that he was reacting to speeches this week by senior officials from Sweden and the United States.

U.S. Under Secretary of State Sarah Sewall on Tuesday singled out laws in Uganda, Russia and Nigeria that she said severely curbed the right of people to love freely.

"Hateful laws have already led - and, we fear, will continue to lead - to dangerous and hate-motivated attacks that terrorize the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community," she said, urging the roll back of all legislation that "criminalizes love".

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has likened the new legislation to anti-Semitic laws in Nazi Germany or apartheid South Africa.

On Wednesday, Sweden suspended some of its financial aid to Uganda over the law, becoming the fourth donor to do so, following the World Bank, Norway and Denmark.

But envoy Onyanga Aparr said the law had good intentions.

"It seeks to protect our children from those engaged in acts of recruiting them into homosexuality and lesbianism," he said.

The law also sought to curb the use of paid homosexual sex to induce disadvantaged and vulnerable people, he said.

"The law also aims at discouraging homosexuals from publicly exhibiting their sexuality and sexual acts or practices," he added.

Homosexuality is taboo in almost all African countries and illegal in 37 - including Uganda, where rights groups say gay people have long risked jail. Fear of violence, imprisonment and loss of jobs means few gays in Africa come out.

"Disapproval of homosexuality by some can never justify violating the fundamental human rights of others," U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, a former judge from South Africa, said in a statement on February 24 when Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the law.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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