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Published: Wednesday February 26, 2014 MYT 4:20:03 AM
Updated: Wednesday February 26, 2014 MYT 4:21:31 AM

United Nations chief urges Uganda to repeal anti-gay law

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Uganda on Tuesday to repeal a law imposing harsh penalties for homosexuality, warning it could fuel prejudice and encourage harassment and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Ban also conveyed his concerns to Uganda's U.N. envoy Monday, just hours after Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni signed the law in the face of protests from rights groups and criticism from Western donors.

"The Secretary-General urges the Government to protect all persons from violence and discrimination, and hopes that the law can be revised or repealed at the earliest opportunity," Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky said on Tuesday.

"He offers the support of the United Nations for constructive dialogue to achieve change on this matter," he said. "Everyone is entitled to enjoy the same basic rights and live a life of worth and dignity without discrimination."

Ban agreed with an assessment by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay that imposing life sentences for homosexuality and same-sex marriage "could fuel prejudice as well as encourage harassment and violence."

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.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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