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Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

DARRIN ZAMMIT LUPI

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has privately lobbied Uganda's president on the sidelines of a Commonwealth leaders' summit to jettison a proposed law that would imprison homosexuals for life in the African country.

"I did raise it directly with the president of Uganda and indicated Canada's deep concern and strong opposition," Mr. Harper announced at the conclusion of the 53-country meeting in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

"We deplore these kinds of measures. We find them inconsistent with frankly I think any reasonable understanding of human rights," the prime minister said.

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"I was very clear on that with the president of Uganda."

Not all leaders at the summit were so forceful. Patrick Manning, Trinidad and Tobago's president, declined comment, saying Uganda's planned law was an internal matter.

The law, proceeding through Uganda's Parliament and supported by some of its top leaders, would imprison anyone who knows of the existence of a gay or lesbian and fails to inform the police within 24 hours. It requires the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality" - defined as any sexual act between gays or lesbians in which one person has the HIV virus.

Human-rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have condemned the bill. They say it is a product of a campaign by evangelical churches and anti-gay groups that has led to death threats and physical assaults against Ugandans suspected of being gay.

The governments of the United States and France have criticized the proposed law, with France expressing "deep concern."

The private member's bill was introduced last month by a Ugandan backbencher who described homosexuality as a "creeping evil." The bill has not been formally endorsed by Mr. Museveni, but his government has allowed it to proceed through Parliament, and some of his top officials have praised it. Analysts are predicting that the law will be approved by Parliament with only minor revisions.

The law would impose a sentence of life imprisonment on anyone who "penetrates the anus or mouth of another person of the same sex with his penis or any other sexual contraption." The same penalty would apply if he or she even "touches another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality."

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The law requires a three-year prison sentence for anyone who is aware of evidence of homosexuality and fails to report it to the police within 24 hours. It allows for the prosecution of Ugandans who engage in homosexual acts in foreign countries. And it imposes a prison sentence of up to seven years for anyone who defends the rights of gays and lesbians.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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