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Life sentences and capital punishment now law of the land in Uganda for LGBTQ activity

KAMPALA, UGANDA, June 8, 2023—Uganda now has one of the world’s toughest laws against the LGBTQ community after the passing, last month, of legislation that would sentence those convicted of homosexuality to life in prison, or even death.

Yoweri Museveni

The Anti-Homosexuality Act was signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni on May 26, 2023, and tightens penalties on same sex relations in a country where homosexuality has already been outlawed since, essentially, the British colonization of 1893 – although Ugandan leadership has denied any history of homosexuality in the country at all.

U.S. President Joe Biden denounced the law’s enactment calling it a “tragic violation of human rights” that could jeopardize U.S.-Ugandan relations, while calling for its immediate repeal.

“This shameful Act is the latest development in an alarming trend of human rights abuses and corruption in Uganda.  The dangers posed by this democratic backsliding are a threat to everyone residing in Uganda, including U.S. government personnel, the staff of our implementing partners, tourists, members of the business community, and others,” President Biden said. “As such, I have directed my National Security Council to evaluate the implications of this law on all aspects of U.S. engagement with Uganda, including our ability to safely deliver services under the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and other forms of assistance and investments.”

The law prescribes the death penalty for acts of “aggravated homosexuality,” defined as repeat convictions or situations in which one, or more, partner has been diagnosed with HIV. Additionally, the maximum punishable sentence for homosexual acts is life in prison with the maximum sentence of attempted homosexual acts being 10 years. A sentence of up to 20 years in prison exists in the law for simply promoting homosexuality. The law also holds it a crime to not report someone who is under suspicion of engaging in same sex behavior.

An earlier draft of the bill, which did not make the final draft much to the satisfaction of several human rights groups, deemed it a crime in Uganda to simply identify as LGBTQ; however, President Musevani decided to amend the bill to focus more on homosexual acts rather than identity.

The African continent has some of the harshest anti-LGBTQ legislation with 34 of its 55 countries, recognized by the United States or African Union, outlawing same-sex relations according to the International Gay and Lesbian Organization. Even in countries that haven’t outright banned homosexuality, there still exists laws that discriminate against gay and lesbian individuals, Human Rights Watch stated. There are currently 64 countries in the world where homosexuality is illegal, BBC reported, and nearly half of these are in Africa.

Uganda, specifically, is a religiously conservative East African nation that has a history of passing legislation outlawing LGBTQ activity, experiencing a recent insurgence of violent hate crimes against LGBTQ people since the beginning of the year. About 80 percent of the country is Christian and about 12 percent is Muslim, according to Britannica.

The Ugandan crackdown on homosexuality seems to line up with recent reports of a boarding school warden, at Mubende Public Model Primary School, allegedly having sexual relations with seven of his pupils.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres worried that the passing of the Act may result in more discrimination and violence in the country in the coming days.

In previous years the country passed the Anti-Homosexuality Act in 2014, and a Sexual Offense Bill was enacted in 2019 outlawing same-sex acts. Same sex marriage has been outlawed in the country since 2005. Uganda has a Constitution which grants its citizens “equality and freedom from discrimination,” however parliament says these protections do not apply to people who engage in homosexual acts.

“By criminalizing what we call consensual same-sex activity among adults basically goes against key provisions of the constitution including violating the rights to equality and non-discrimination under article 20 and 21 of the constitution. It also violates the right to dignity which is under article 24 of the constitution,” said Adrian Jjuuko, of the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum in Kampala.

The United Nations Human Rights Office tweeted May 29: “We are appalled that the draconian and discriminatory anti-gay bill is now law. It is a recipe for systematic violations of the rights of LGBT people & the wider population. It conflicts with the Constitution and international treaties and requires urgent judicial review.”

The passing of the Anti-homosexuality Act came just three months after Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Ministry informed the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Uganda that the country would not be renewing the UN Human Rights Office’s three-year lease. President Museveni stated the decision was to bring the focus back to Uganda’s own “commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights.”

The UN Human Rights Office has existed in Uganda since 2006 to assist in the conflicts Northern and North-Eastern Uganda was facing. Three years later it was expanded to cover the entirety of Uganda and all of its human rights-related issues.

Most famously, the office is known for aiding the aftermath of Uganda’s 2021 general election when military and police clashed with the National Unity Platform (NUP) who presented a list of human rights violations to the office. Several journalists were also physically beaten during that conflict, the Monitor reported that year.

UN human rights activists have long held the office necessary to protect its people from a government that hasn’t always held serious human rights violations accountable. The Ugandan government, on the other hand, has placed restrictions on non-government organizations since 2016 when an Act was enacted that gives broad powers to the state to revoke licenses, suspend, or blacklist independent activist groups.

Neighboring countries Kenya and Tanzania praised Uganda’s signing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act with George Kaluma, a Kenyan member of parliament, introducing similar legislation in April. Kaluma frequently takes to Twitter with anti-LGBTQ statements most recently tweeting “LGBTQ perversion must end” on June 8 and tweeting “only male and female gender exists, the others are scientific fantasy” on June 7.

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