The Shadow Foreign Minister for Human Rights, Kerry McCarthy MP, has spoken out against the ongoing persecution of gay, bi and transgender people in Uganda.

Speaking in Westminster at a Parliamentary debate on human rights in Uganda, Kerry McCarthy said abuses could not be justified by religious beliefs and condemned moves that would see same-sex relationships be punished with life imprisonment or the death penalty in the country.

Ms McCarthy said while she understood the need for western Governments to avoid appearing as an old colonial power seeking to impose its culture, they “should not accept that people’s cultural or religious beliefs allow them to persecute or discriminate against people because of their sexuality.”

In February, a Ugandan Member of Parliament, David Bahati, reintroduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that would criminalize the work of human rights activists and organizations in Uganda by making the “promotion of homosexuality” a criminal offence.

The Ugandan Penal Code, which was introduced by the British during the 19th century, already prohibits consensual sex between individuals of the same sex. However, the Anti Homosexuality Bill goes much further, recommending life imprisonment for people in same sex relationships and even the death penalty for the offence of “aggravated homosexuality”.

It also punishes those who do not report violations of the Bill’s provisions within 24 hours. The bill has received the support of some Churches in Uganda.

Speaking after the debate, Kerry McCarthy said: “The debate focused on a variety of important human rights issues that are facing Uganda today. Given the recent murder of human rights campaigner David Kato, who was murdered after a newspaper reported he was gay, as well as the ongoing harassment and violence gay people face, I believe it is vital that we keep treatment and persecution of gay people in Uganda at the top of the agenda.

“Sadly a lot of the persecution gay people face stems from the enforcement of the old Penal Code that Britain imposed in the 19th Century and it is further justified by people’s religious beliefs. While I respect the fact Uganda is a deeply Christian country, I do believe that old colonial laws and religious beliefs should not be used to justify the persecution of people because of their sexuality. The Ugandan Government has an obligation to protect the human rights of all its citizens.

“My message today is clear, gay rights are human rights.”