Photo by Cecilie Johnsen

The Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill: An affront to human rights

Right Livelihood condemns in the strongest terms the adoption of the anti-homosexuality bill by the Ugandan parliament on Tuesday, March 21 2023. The bill is a blatant attempt to silence and repress all members of the LGBTIQ+ community in the country. We urge the Ugandan authorities, including President Museveni, to align with the country’s constitutional and international obligations by rejecting the bill’s adoption and effectively decriminalising same-sex relations. 

The bill, which is now awaiting Presidential approval, is one of the most homophobic pieces of anti-gay legislation in Africa and is an expansion of the 2014 act of the same title, which had been adopted and then repealed by the Ugandan Supreme Court. It provides life imprisonment for anyone “committing homosexuality” and expands this notion to anyone identifying as LGBTIQ+. It also reintroduces the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality,” which includes same-sex relations under the age of 18 or when the individual is HIV positive. Anyone “promoting” homosexuality would also be criminally liable, therefore directly targeting LGBTIQ+ activists and outspoken allies as well. 

The adoption of this bill, which comes after months of increased debates on homosexuality in Uganda, is another of countless attempts by politicians to use homosexuality as a scapegoat to divert public attention from important issues. This includes the multiplication of arbitrary detention and torture by the authorities and the country’s economic crisis. The deep societal homophobia that they fuel, coupled with existing legislation criminalising homosexual intercourse and LGBTIQ+ advocacy, already grossly restricts the LGBTIQ+ community’s human rights. Many of them refrain from seeking healthcare or going to school, due to fear of being reported. We, therefore, condemn in the strongest terms this new legislative step, which will only worsen this climate and encourage the use of violent, ineffective and abusive practices by the police, such as anal examinations, to corroborate hypotheses regarding a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Any imprisonment based on this law would amount to discriminatory detention based on sexual orientation, and could therefore be classified as arbitrary detention as defined by the UN Working Group of Arbitrary Detention. 

In light of the above, we deplore the blatant disregard of Ugandan lawmakers for their constitutional and international human rights obligations. Article 20 of the Ugandan Constitution recognises that fundamental freedoms are universal and shall be promoted by the Ugandan government. It guarantees the rights to equality and freedom from discrimination, and the protection of the right to life, human dignity and freedom of expression, all of which this law grossly violates. 

We, therefore, call on President Museveni to urgently reject the anti-homosexuality bill, in line with Uganda’s constitution and international human rights obligations, and take measures to protect the fundamental freedoms of all Ugandans.