LGBTQ+ rights advocates in Uganda protest the country's so-called "Kill the Gays" legislation

LGBTQ+ advocates protest Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Act in Pretoria, South Africa on April 4, 2023.

(Photo: Phil Magakoe/AFP via Getty Images)

Ugandan Court Upholds 'One of the Most Extreme Anti-LGBTI Laws in the World'

"It is shocking that an opportunity was missed to revoke a law that undermines the rights of LGBTI persons in Uganda, their allies, human rights defenders, and activists," said one Amnesty International campaigner.

Human rights defenders on Wednesday condemned a ruling by the Constitutional Court of Uganda upholding most of the African nation's so-called "Kill the Gays" law criminalizing sex between consenting adults of the same sex and imposing the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality."

The court's five justices largely affirmed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023 (AHA)—signed into law last year by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni amid widespread condemnation from Western nations and international human rights groups—as being consistent with the country's constitution.

However, the justices struck down four sections of the law that criminalized renting properties for use in same-sex sexual acts and failure to report such acts to the authorities, finding that those provisions violate portions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights related to health, privacy, and religious freedom rights.

"This ruling is wrong and deplorable," said Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda. "Uganda's Constitution protects all of its people, equally. We continue to call for this law to be repealed. We are calling on all governments, [United Nations] partners, and multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and the Global Fund to likewise intensify their demand that this law be struck down because it is discriminatory."

Tigere Chagutah, a regional director at Amnesty International, said that "it is shocking that an opportunity was missed to revoke a law that undermines the rights of LGBTI persons in Uganda, their allies, human rights defenders, and activists by criminalizing consensual same-sex acts, 'promotion' of homosexuality with all its vagueness as an offense, and contemplates the death penalty for the offense of 'aggravated homosexuality."

"As we mark the 10th anniversary of the African Commission's Resolution 275 on the protection against violence and human rights violations against persons on the basis of their real or imputed sexual orientation or gender identity, the government of Uganda must repeal the entire Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023 and ensure accountability for the attacks against LGBTI people," Chagutah added.

Amnesty called the Ugandan law "one of the most extreme anti-LGBTI laws in the world."

Human Rights Campaign president Kelly Robinson said in a statement: "For the Constitutional Court of Uganda to uphold such a draconian law in any capacity is a horrific display of hatred that will mean further discrimination and physical harm for LGBTQ+ Ugandans. Over the last year, we have mourned the wave of violence targeting the LGBTQ+ community, and we know that this decision will only result in further damage."

Rightify Ghana, which advocates for sexual minorities in Africa, called Wednesday's ruling "deeply disappointing" and "a significant setback for human rights and democracy in Uganda."

"Human rights and democracy are under attack, not just in Uganda, but across Africa," the group added. "It is crucial that our courts uphold the constitution and protect the rights of all citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity."

Under the Ugandan law, people convicted of "aggravated homosexuality"—defined as same-sex sexual acts by HIV-positive people or with children, disabled people, or anyone deemed vulnerable—can be hanged to death. The law punishes same-sex acts with life imprisonment and attempted same-sex acts with 10 years behind bars. It also criminalizes the "promotion" of LGBTQ+ rights.

According to the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, a Ugandan advocacy group, 55 people have been arrested under the law, including three who face possible execution. At least eight people have been subjected to forced anal examinations, while 254 people accused of either being or associating with LGBTQ+ people have been evicted from their homes.

Rights groups have also sounded the alarm on anti-gay "witch hunts" and violence targeting LGBTQ+ Ugandans.

The law has sparked international outrage and alarm. In the United States, the Biden administration responded by cutting aid to Uganda, imposing visa restrictions on its citizens, and canceling a planned regional military exercise.

"The announcement that some provisions of Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Act have been removed by the Constitutional Court is a small and insufficient step towards safeguarding human rights," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday in response to the ruling.

"The United States is deeply concerned about the remaining provisions which undermine public health, human rights, and Uganda's international reputation," she added. "As the president has said time and time again, no one should have to live in constant fear nor be subjected to violence or discrimination. It is wrong. We will continue to work to advance respect for human rights for all in Uganda and also around the world."

The Delegation of the European Union to Uganda also condemned Wednesday's ruling, calling the AHA "contrary to international human rights law."

"The E.U. also regrets the retention of the death penalty, to which the E.U. is opposed in all circumstances," the delegation added.

Advocates have noted the role of European colonization and U.S. evangelicals in demonizing and outlawing homosexuality in Africa.

The Ugandan LGBTQ+ advocacy group Convening for Equality lamented that the Ugandan court missed an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of other African nations including Mozambique, Botswana, Seychelles, Mauritius, Gabon, Cape Verde, South Africa, and Angola that "have recognized anti-gay laws as remnants of colonial rule, and repealed them through law reform processes and court decisions."

"In the summary released describing the basis for their ruling, the court only cited one case by name: the U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down the right to abortion, Dobbs v. Jackson [Women's Health Organization], as providing justification for upholding criminalization of [LGBTQ+] Ugandans," the group added. "Advocates noted that this could point to influence on Uganda's judiciary by the U.S. extremist hate groups who funded that U.S. Supreme Court challenge."

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