Uganda: Proposed Legislation Attacks LGBT People and their Defenders

IGLHRC expresses grave concern about ongoing detentions in Uganda based on charges of homosexuality, and calls for the dismissal of a bill that would severely curtail the rights of LGBT people and their defenders.

Since March, a number of alarming instances of anti-LGBT persecution in the East African nation of Uganda have seriously eroded the country's already fragile commitment to tolerance and human rights. Article 145a of the Penal Code Act of 1950 criminalizes "carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature" – a charge used to prosecute, persecute and blackmail LGBT people with the threat of life imprisonment. Members of this country's Parliament are now considering an even harsher law in the form of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009, introduced last week by Ndorwa West MP David Bahati. The Bill would reaffirm penalties for homosexuality, punishing it with a fine of up to 10 million shillings, a maximum of ten years of imprisonment, or both. The Bill would also criminalize the "promotion of homosexuality" – including funding and sponsoring LGBT organizations and broadcasting, publishing, or marketing materials on homosexuality – with a massive fine or a minimum of five years of imprisonment. Anyone who fails to report known violations of the law within 24 hours will also be subject to up to six months in prison for neglecting to turn in their colleagues, family, or friends. Even more shocking, the Bill claims jurisdiction over Ugandans who violate its provisions while outside of the country.

The Bill effectively bans any kind of community or political organizing around non-heteronormative sexuality. It will almost certainly lend itself to misapplication and abuse, and implicitly encourages persecution of LGBT people by private actors. HIV prevention activities in Uganda, which rely on an ability to talk frankly about sexuality and provide condoms and other safer-sex materials, will be seriously damaged. Women, sex workers, people living with AIDS, and other marginalized groups may also find their activities tracked and criminalized through this bill.

The Bill would withdraw Uganda from any international treaty that recognizes rights for LBGT people or contradicts the spirit of the legislation, undermining Uganda's commitment to the international human rights regime and threatening the basic human rights of all of the country's citizens.

The imprisonment of people solely on the basis of their real or suspected sexuality violates the letter or the recommendations of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention Against Torture, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), to all of which Uganda is a party. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill also violates National Objective 5(2) of the Ugandan Constitution, which provides that "the State shall guarantee and respect the independence of non-governmental organizations which protect and promote human rights." Moreover, it directly contravenes the right to equality and freedom from discrimination (Article 21), the right to privacy (Article 27), the right to freedoms of speech, expression, association, and assembly (Article 29), the protection of minorities (Article 36), and the protection of civic rights and activities (Article 38).

The Bill has emerged in the context of increasing discrimination and violence against LGBT people. At least four men have been held in custody for over 90 days without trial under Article 145a of the Penal Code Act, with eight ongoing cases in courts all over Uganda. A fifth detainee, Brian Pande, died of unknown causes in Mbale Hospital on September 14, 2009.

IGLHRC is working closely with Sexual Minorities of Uganda (SMUG) and a number of other local, regional and international organizations to respond to the recent violence and the threat of the Bill. IGLHRC Program Associate for Africa Victor Mukasa is one of the founders of the LGBT movement in Uganda. IGLHRC will continue to monitor the situation and relay any requests for action that arise from our colleagues in the country.