As a network of 35 international and regional organisations that supports and protects women human rights defenders worldwide in their defence of human rights, the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition calls on President Yoweri Museveni to urgently veto Uganda’s anti-LGBTI bill.
On Tuesday, March 21, 2023, the Ugandan parliament has passed a bill to impose life imprisonment punishment for same sexual conduct, 10 years for attempted same sex conduct and death penalty for “aggravated” homosexuality. The bill also criminalises the so-called “promotion” of homosexuality.
The 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Bill is not the first time the Ugandan Parliament has attempted to recriminalize homosexuality since the striking-down of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, a colonial-era provision from the 1950 Penal Code Act, in 2014.
On 3 May 2021, Parliament passed the Sexual Offenses Bill, which sought to criminalise any “sexual act between persons of the same gender,” as well as anal sex between people of any gender. In August 2021, President Museveni rejected the law stating that many provisions in the proposed law were redundant as they were already provided for in existing legislations like the Penal Code Act.
Impact on LGBTI people, (W)HRDs and other segments of society
This cruel and repressive legislation will deepen discrimination, hatred and prejudice against LGBTI people, including those perceived as such, as well as human rights defenders and activists working on gender and sexuality issues, community centres and organisations working on HIV/AIDS, and any public figure, educator or community leader who will stand against homophobic practices.
Moreover, the new legislation will not only exacerbate hate crimes and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI) but will also institutional them. While it is the positive obligation of any state to protect its citizens from abuse, threats and aggression, the new law will mean exactly the opposite – that the Ugandan government is entirely failing to comply with its national obligations towards its own people and is inciting violence instead of ensuring protection.
Meanwhile, the protection and promotion of fundamental human rights and freedoms is enshrined both in the Uganda’s Constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. As stated in the Ugandan Constitution, fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual are inherent and not granted by the State. Right to sexuality, dignity and private life are integral part of fundamental rights and freedom.
The Article V (i) of the same Constitution stipulates that “the State shall guarantee and respect institutions which are charged by the State with responsibility for protecting and promoting human rights…” and that “the State shall guarantee and respect the independence of non-governmental organisations which protect and promote human rights.” Protection of LGBTI rights is inseparable from the protection of other human rights. This means that with the new law not only the government violates the rights of its citizens based on their actual or perceived SOGI, but it also directly targets human rights defenders (HRDs) working on the ground to protect and promote the human rights of the targeted population.
While HRDs, especially those working on gender and sexuality issues, will increasingly become targets of hate crime, violence and harassment, the new law will be also used as a weapon to silence critical voices fighting for democracy or other intersecting human rights causes. A threat to be accused under the new legislation can thus affect HRDs and the civil society more broadly, as the right to freedom of speech and expression, the right to assembly and to freedom of association enshrined in the Article 29 of the Ugandan Constitution are thus endangered by its own state.
Women human rights defenders (WHRDs) who work on sexual and reproductive rights issues are particularly at risk of grave consequences, as they are often perceived to be challenging accepted socio‐cultural norms, traditions, perceptions and stereotypes about femininity, sexual orientation, and the role and status of women in society.
Article 33 (6) of Ugandan Constitution stipulates that “Laws, cultures, customs or traditions which are against the dignity, welfare or interest of women or which undermine their status, are prohibited by this Constitution”. This newly passed Anti-Homosexuality Bill is thus anti-Constitutional and encourages gender based violence, targeting WHRDs in particular.
We urge the President of Uganda to immediately veto the 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
Particularly, we call on the Government of Uganda to: