Lara Kajs | 7 August 2023 |
On 26 May, after decades of state-instigated discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, President Yoweri Museveni signed into law Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act (2023). The law of intolerance criminalizes same-sex relations, introduces harsh penalties for certain types of homosexual acts, and prohibits freedom of speech on LGBT human rights. The restrictive ACT violates basic human rights guaranteed under Uganda’s constitution. The new law drives people against one another, leaves people behind, and undermines development, and it will be felt across Uganda, by essentially everyone.
Life Imprisonment for Existing
Uganda’s draconian law already punishes intimate relations between same-sex persons with life imprisonment. The new law demands the punishment of up to 14 years in jail for “attempted homosexuality”. Groups advocating for the rights of and offering support, including financial, to the LGBT+ community, could face up to 20 years in prison for what the law calls “promoting homosexuality”. However, the most egregious violation of human rights is the death penalty for what the ACT deems as “aggravated homosexuality”.
The law is a departure from taking necessary steps to end sexual violence, and further increases the risk of worsening the violence and persecution already faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Uganda. This level of intolerance is a complete violation of nearly all of their human rights, and it serves to incite people against each other by rendering LGBT+ people as criminals simply for existing. Everyone has the right to live free and peacefully, from violence and discrimination.
Further, the law prescribes “conversion” therapy for convicted homosexuals to change their sexual orientation. Conversion therapy is a pseudoscientific practice of attempting to change an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Practices in conversion therapy are inherently discriminatory, cruel, degrading, and inhuman. The practices have been proven to cause harm and are considered by many as a form of torture.
Culture of Fear
For human rights advocates, the cost of helping, supporting, and defending any persons in the LGBT community has been felt. Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act puts at risk those who offer support and services. The law legitimizes and worsens continued stigmatization, harassment, discrimination, and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and other diverse persons, and it impacts every aspect of their lives.
Under this law, intolerance creates a culture of fear that hangs over LGBT+ persons in Uganda. Fear for their life and physical well-being for simply being who they are and living according to their sexual orientation. Additionally, constant acts of aggression, intimidation, and harassment threaten the mental health of those being persecuted. When intolerance becomes law, there can be no inclusion and equality. It is a giant step backward for all of humanity.
The network of support for Uganda’s LGBT+ community has become an “underground railroad” of sorts. Abbo is a transgender female and runs a support group for other transgender males and females. In the months since the onset of the Anti-Homosexuality Law, the support center has been targeted numerous times. She has been beaten on several occasions and says the fear and pressure have led her to consider suicide. The group now meets in secret locations to prevent additional threats and violence.
Human Rights Violations
Violence and discrimination against LGBT people are already widespread in Uganda. Some ten weeks since the Act was signed, at least 523 human rights violations have been perpetrated against the LGBT community. The new law dehumanizes people, exacerbating the stigma against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and other diverse persons without cause. Immediate human rights violations include police abuse, arbitrary arrests and detention, extortion, forced evictions, loss of employment, torture, and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act reduces access to healthcare and further puts people’s health at risk by placing additional barriers to precautions, disease screening, and vital medical care. All of this is because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
Before the law, friends, coworkers, and family members supported each other. Now, the LGBT community has been outcast and family members are turning on each other. The law requires Ugandans to report suspected homosexuals or violations of the law to authorities – including family members.
Kato is a young woman of 23 who told her family about her sexual orientation four years ago. She says her family was very supportive of her. However, the fear incited by the new law led her family to ask her to leave their home and cut off all ties with them. Kato spent the first few weeks homeless on the streets where she was repeatedly raped. Her perpetrators have gone unpunished.
Sanyu had a job and a home until the law went into effect. He was terminated from his job and evicted from his home. A former coworker turned Sanyu into authorities for violating the law. Now, he is in hiding, expecting to join many who have fled the country seeking asylum elsewhere from “fear of persecution due to their inclusion in a particular group”.
Obligation to Human Rights
There is growing concern regarding the path of human rights in Uganda. The bill has been condemned by the UN, the US, the UK, Canada, Germany, and the EU, as well as many international NGOs. The Act is not consistent with the values and practices of non-discrimination and inclusion that Uganda’s constitution claims it supports. Institutionalized discrimination is destructive to marginalized, disadvantaged, and vulnerable people, societies, and countries.
Stakeholders call for Uganda to fully respect its international human rights obligations in particular of non-discrimination and the respect for personal privacy, and to promote social inclusions, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Ugandan government needs to take steps to provide an environment that prevents violence and discrimination against LGBT people.
Photo credit: Marching in solidarity with Uganda’s LGBTI community. By Alisdare Hickson from Canterbury, United Kingdom. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0