After an unsuccessful attempt to propagate the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014, the Ugandan Parliament yet again decided to reintroduce the Bill in March 2023. The Ugandan Parliament, led by Speaker Anita Among, asserted that lawmakers should not allow the foreign practice of homosexuality to continue within Uganda and to erode domestic moral standards. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023 was passed with an overwhelming majority, while only 2 of the 389 parliamentarians desisted. Despite its catastrophic human rights implications, the new Bill was considered by proponents to be a step towards promoting the welfare of the citizens of Uganda.
The Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014 was passed by the Parliament in 2013 and subsequently received presidential assent in February 2014. However, the Act was shortly afterwards struck down by the Constitutional Court in August, deemed “null and void” because of procedural lapses. Nonetheless, the Ugandan LGBTQ community remained subject to Section 145 of the Penal Code of 1950, which criminalises ‘unnatural [sic] sexual offences’ including homosexuality.
The Member of Parliament re-introducing the Bill in 2023 described the concept of homosexuality as a “cancer” which is “eating up the world”. The proposed Bill not only criminalises same-sex sexual relations (with imprisonment up to 10 years), but also provides for conviction of any individual who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community. Any identity deviating from the gender binary of male/female is also threatened with legal persecution. Moreover, the Bill punishes HIV-positive people with a charge of aggravated homosexuality, with any individual facing the charge for aggravated homosexuality made to compulsorily undergo an HIV test. Those wishing to contract a same-sex marriage (as well as those who solemnize the marriage) are also liable to 10 years’ imprisonment.
If this Bill receives presidential assent and enters into law it would provide grounds for legitimised systematic human rights violations of LGBTQ people and allies. By criminalising consensual sexual intercourse between adults, and mandating compulsory HIV examinations, the Bill violates the right to privacy (Article 27 of the Constitution of Uganda 1995). By criminalising any individual identifying as a part of the LGBTQ community, or a gender other than male or female, the Bill also impinges on the rights to equality and non-discrimination (Article 21 of the Constitution). Given that individuals belonging to the LGBTQ community often face arbitrary arrests and detention, mob lynching, and may even be subject to humiliation by being stripped naked, the rights to dignity and protection from inhumane and degrading treatment are also severely threatened.
The 2023 Bill is therefore clearly in violation of Articles 21, 23, 24 and 27 of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda, which respectively provide the Rights to Equality and Non-Discrimination, Protection of Personal Liberty, Protection from Cruel or Degrading Treatment, and Privacy. The Bill also infringes various provisions of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, specifically those prohibiting discrimination (Article 2), cruel or degrading treatment (Article 5), and prohibition of arbitrary arrests (Article 6). As criminalisation forces the LGBTQ community underground, it also deters them from accessing health and medical services, which may create a dangerous regression in the fight against HIV. The discriminatory Bill also violates several provisions enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Articles 2, 5, 9 and 12) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Articles 2, 7, 9 and 17).
As a whole, the Bill not only makes the very existence of LGBTQ individuals as a crime, but it also criminalises any individual or organisation which may be working for the benefit of the LGBTQ community, especially health service providers, HIV awareness societies, and the media. While same-sex marriages are legally prohibited, the line of distinction between consensual and non-consensual sexual intercourse has also been erased. The Bill, if signed by the Ugandan President, would amplify existing legal and societal problems for the LGBTQ community and serve as an explicit violation of regional and international human rights instruments. On these grounds, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and other international organisations have strongly urged the President not to pass the Bill into law.
Want to learn more?
- Read: Retrogressing on the Rights to Basic Education: A Slippery Slope into Criminalising LGBT Students
- Read: Kenya’s Landmark Supreme Court Decision on Non-Discrimination for Sexual Minorities
- Read: Freedom of Speech and Expression Online Reinstated in Uganda
- Read: The Respect for Marriage Act as Both a Gay Rights Victory and Defeat