Uganda: Amended Proposal Still Violates Human Rights

On December 9, 2009, Uganda's Minister of Ethics and Integrity, James Nsaba Buturo, announced that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill will likely be altered to remove the death penalty and life imprisonment as proposed punishments for homosexuality. The move to amend the Bill follows months of criticism from a coalition of groups from civil society, religious, legal, and government leaders, and human rights defenders in Uganda and around the world. The Bill's main sponsor, David Bahati, countered on December 13 that Parliament would not weaken the Bill in response to international pressure, making the future of the legislation unclear.

While IGLHRC welcomes the government’s efforts to minimize the severity of the Bill, many provisions in this bill remain deeply repressive and wholly incommensurate with Uganda's obligations under domestic and international law.

The proposed amendments would do nothing to alter Penal Code Article 145a, which punishes "carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature" – a charge used to prosecute, persecute and blackmail lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people with the threat of life imprisonment. The Bill would still expand the legal definition of homosexuality by criminalizing a wider range of behaviors, from sexual stimulation to simply "touch[ing] another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality." The new amendments appear to preserve heightened sentencing for "aggravated homosexuality," including homosexuality by "serial offenders," those who are HIV positive, or those whose partner lives with a disability.

Moreover, the proposed amendments are solely concerned with sentencing, and do not address any of the major concerns raised by civil society about draconian restrictions on equality, privacy, and freedoms of expression, association, and assembly. The Bill would still criminalize the "promotion of homosexuality" in the form of funding or operating LGBTI organizations and broadcasting, publishing, or marketing materials on homosexuality and punishes these acts with a steep fine, 5-7 years of imprisonment, or both. Any person who fails to report known violations of the law within 24 hours would also be subject to a significant fine and up to 3 years in prison – even when this means turning in their colleagues, family, or friends. The revised Bill would still claim jurisdiction over Ugandans who violate its provisions while outside of the country and would purport to withdraw Uganda from any treaty that recognizes the human rights of LGBTI people, severely undermining the independence of civil society and the foundations of the human rights regime.

The Bill encourages mistreatment and violence toward LGBTI people, makes it difficult or impossible to provide effective HIV/AIDS prevention, outreach, and treatment, and sets a dangerous precedent for fundamental human rights in Uganda. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill not only violates multiple protections guaranteed by the Constitution of Uganda, but contravenes the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and other international human rights treaties to which Uganda is a party. The human rights of all Ugandans must be assured and respected, and any form of this Bill places those rights at risk.