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Ugandan court widely condemned for upholding harsh anti-LGBTQ law

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (Jose Luis Magana photo courtesy of AP)

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (Jose Luis Magana photo courtesy of AP)

By Joto La Jiwe

Uganda’s Constitutional Court has come under widespread condemnation for its April 3 ruling that left intact the bulk of the harsh Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) 2023, which calls for the execution of active homosexuals.

Despite appeals by human-rights petitioners opposed to the AHA, the constitutional court judges sided with the regime by upholding what has been widely described as a homophobic law.

The judges made an attempt to sugarcoat their judgement by striking down a few provisions of the law, but this was not enough to save it from both local and international condemnation.

United States

The United States was the first to take aim at the infamous ruling.

In a statement issued immediately after the court decision, the U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken rejected the idea of removing some provisions of the harsh law noting that this was a small and insufficient step towards safeguarding human rights. He stated:

“The United States continues to be deeply concerned by reports of human rights abuses in Uganda, including against the LGBTQI+ community. The announcement that some provisions of the Anti-Homosexuality Act have been removed by the Constitutional Court is a small and insufficient step towards safeguarding human rights. The remaining provisions of the AHA pose grave threats to the Ugandan people, especially LGBTQI+ Ugandans and their allies, undermine public health, clamp down on civic space, damage Uganda’s international reputation, and harm efforts to increase foreign investment. Uganda should respect the human dignity of all and provide equal protection to all individuals under the law” Anthony Blinken.

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan called the decision “deeply disappointing”“The Court has left LGBTQI+ persons vulnerable to hate-fueled violence, discrimination, persecution, life imprisonment, or even the death penalty – simply for existing as they are.”

SEE ALSO: “The West fiddles while Uganda prepares a future of anti-LGBTQ horrors”

Sullivan noted that the U.S. has already imposed sanctions against Uganda in response to the passage of the AHA, including :

  • Refusing visas for Ugandans “complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda or for policies or actions aimed at repressing members of marginalized or vulnerable populations.”
  • Ending Uganda’s eligibility for the economic incentives of the African Growth and Opportunity Act.
  • Reducing support to the Government of Uganda, specifically $15 million for the Ugandan Ministries of Health, Agriculture, and Tourism and $5 million in anti-AIDS funding redirected from the government to private organizations.
  • Issuing warnings to business and travelers about the dangers of Uganda.
  • Supporting cutbacks on World Bank lending in Uganda.

Sulivan said “the United States continues to assess implications of the AHA on all aspects of U.S. engagement with the Government of Uganda”.

The United States also promised to help LGBTI victims of repression in Uganda:

“Through various rapid response emergency mechanisms, the Department of State and USAID have increased emergency assistance to LGBTQI+ Ugandan human rights defenders and organizations whose safety and security are at risk. Emergency response may include assistance for those who are victims of violence, evicted from their homes, or who need help accessing medical care. It also includes support for legal representation if individuals are unjustly arrested.”

European Union

The European Union was also quick to reject the ruling, stating that it will continue to engage the Uganda authorities and civil society to ensure that all Ugandan citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity, are protected and treated equally with dignity and respect.

“The EU restates its position that the AHA is contrary to international human rights law. The EU also regrets the retention of the death penalty to which the EU is opposed in all circumstances” EU.

Amnesty International

Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s regional director for East and Southern Africa, also refused to be assuaged by the removal of some provisions of the law saying that:

“We are dismayed that the Court has turned its back on its responsibility to fully uphold Uganda’s Constitution which protects the human rights of all people, including rights to equality and non-discrimination, protection of personal liberty, protection from cruel or degrading treatment, and privacy.

“As we mark the 10th anniversary of the African Commission’s Resolution 275 on the protection against violence and human rights violations against persons on the basis of their real or imputed sexual orientation or gender identity, the Government of Uganda must repeal the entire Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 and ensure accountability for the attacks against LGBTI people.”

Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of HRAPF (Photo courtesy of PresidentialPrecinct.org)

Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of HRAPF (Photo courtesy of PresidentialPrecinct.org)

Human rights activists in Uganda

Locally, the court decision was  rejected by the Ugandan LGBTQI+ community and human rights defenders, some of who were among the petitioners against the law.

Dr. Adrian Juuko, the executive director of Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAFP), tweeted;

“The Constitutional Court just delivered what would be a win-win judgment – intended to please all parties. Unfortunately, this only pleases one party – the government, which will most likely get its World Bank and Global Fund money as the LGBT community continues to be muzzled”.

Nicholas Opio, a human rights lawyer who participated in the case in support of the petitioners, did not mince his words in his reaction to the ruling;

“You come to court expecting it to rise above public bigotry and sentiments. To that extent, it is a letdown, but we will see what next steps can be taken.”

Dr. Busingye Kabumba, a senior lecturer at Makerere school of law, called the Constitutional Court ruling dangerous.

“Not everything in the Constitution is constitutional. Not everything the Constitutional Court decides is correct. The Constitutional Court reached the wrong answer today, based on manifestly problematic (and even dangerous) reasoning. This is Uganda’s Dred Scott v Sandford.”

While addressing journalists after the court ruling, Andrew Mwenda who was one of the petitioners said that their next stop is at the Supreme Court.

“We are going to the supreme court and I have full confidence that the judges of the supreme court will stand above our cultural bigotry and prejudices and protect the rights of homosexuals to live their lives as they wish.”

Dr. Frank Mugisha, executive director of now-deregistered Sexual Minorities Uganda, described the conduct of the Constitutional Court as state-sanctioned homophobia.

HRAPF issued a statement condemning the court ruling;

“The Constitutional Court of Uganda has declined to annul the Anti-Homosexuality Act and declared that the #AHA23 complies with the Constitution of Uganda except in four provisions. This decision unfortunately will fuel human rights violations against LGBT+ persons in Uganda.”

The Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023 is one of the most extreme anti-LGBTI laws in the world in scope and penalties.

The AHA was signed into law by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni on May 30, 2023. In December 2023, human rights lawyers, law makers and journalists, among others, filed a petition in the Constitutional Court to challenge the constitutionality of the law. The petitioners argued that the law violates rights guaranteed in Uganda’s constitution, including freedom from discrimination and rights to privacy as well as freedom of thought, conscience, and belief.

In the months after the passing of the law, HRAPF documented a record-breaking increase in arrests made under the law, death penalty cases forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions, forced anal examination cases, evictions of persons accused to be or associated with LGBTI people, and other cases of actual or threatened violence.

Source: African Human Rights Media Network member Erasing 76 Crimes.

Joto La Jiwe, the author of this article, is a Ugandan correspondent for the African Human Rights Media Network. He writes under a pseudonym. Contact him at [email protected].