People in same-sex relationships in Uganda face the possibility of life imprisonment after the country’s parliament unanimously passed the 2023 Anti-LGBTQ+ Law. This legislation has been condemned by Amnesty International as “appalling,” “ambiguous,” and “vaguely worded,” and it establishes severe penalties for same-sex “offences,” including the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.”
If the Anti-LGBTQ+ Law is assented to by Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, it would also make it a duty of a gay person’s family and community to report individuals in same-sex relationships to the authorities. The LGBTQ+ community in Uganda, which fought to overturn the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014, is now facing a significant blow. The 2014 Act already contained draconian provisions, including life imprisonment for same-sex acts. However, just five months after Museveni assented to the 2014 Act, Uganda’s constitutional court overturned it, not due to public outcry, but on procedural grounds.
Human Rights Watch has expressed concern that the passage of the Anti-LGBTQ+ Law will open the floodgates for persecution of sexual minorities, and it has described the current law as a “more egregious version” of the 2014 Act. The bill seems to be an unnecessary duplication of the penal code. However, parliament considers its passage necessary to address legislative gaps and “place emphasis on emerging matters” that are not contained in the criminal law, such as criminalizing the procurement, promotion, and dissemination of literature relating to homosexuality.
Uganda’s constitution already prohibits same-sex marriage, and the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) Act of 2016 prevents the registration of organizations involved in promoting LGBTQ+ rights, which prevents civil society organizations from advocating for the rights and welfare of sexual minorities. Sexual minorities face discrimination and marginalization from employment, health, and other services. They are ostracized from their communities and threatened with or experience homophobic attacks.
Opponents of the anti-homosexuality bill argue that it is in direct contravention of the Bill of Rights in Uganda’s constitution, which guarantees and protects a number of rights and freedoms applicable to all citizens, including the right to privacy, freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment, and protection against discrimination.
However, article 43 of Uganda’s constitution states that the enjoyment of rights and freedoms is subject to limitation if that limitation is seen to be in the public interest and “acceptable and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society.” The public interest here is the protection of moral values and the traditional heterosexual family.
In her submission to the legal and parliamentary affairs committee, prominent human rights activist and academic Dr. Sylvia Tamale wrote that same-sex relations have always existed in African societies without persecution and have tended to be treated as a private matter. To criminalize them is to transform them into a matter of public concern and introduce “sexual apartheid.”
The passing of this discriminatory bill is among the worst of its kind in the world, and it is a deeply troubling development. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, has urged Museveni not to sign it, stating that “if signed into law by the President, it will render lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in Uganda criminals simply for existing, for being who they are. It could provide carte blanche for the systematic violation of nearly all of their human rights and serve to incite people against each other.”
The threat of losing international aid was not sufficient to dissuade Museveni from assenting to the 2014 Act, and it is doubtful whether it will dissuade him now. The bill’s passage legitimizes anti-LGBTQ+ hatred and opens up the possibility that people could even face the death penalty for committing a private, consensual sexual act.