Uganda, a Christian-majority country located in East Africa, has become the latest nation to pass a strict anti-LGBTQ law in the form of the recently approved Anti-Homosexuality Act.
President Yoweri Museveni agreed to the law despite widespread opposition from Western governments, businesses, and human rights organisations.
The Anti-Homosexuality Act goes much further than the existing same-sex relations laws which are in effect in over 30 African countries. It introduces punishments such as capital punishment for persons caught engaging in gay sexual activities and who are HIV positive, as well as a sentence of 20 years for simply promoting homosexuality.
These severe punishments have been seen by some as a violation of basic human rights for LGBTQ people in Uganda, which are already marginalised in society. For this reason, Museveni’s decision to pass the law has created an outcry from the international community. In particular, the United States—which has a historic relationship with Uganda— has been particularly vocal in its opposition.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has also expressed his disapproval, saying, “The new law violates the rights to privacy and to non-discrimination enshrined in the international human rights law obligations of Uganda.”
Many Ugandans are taking issue with the law as well. The Ugandan activist and human rights defender, Kasha Jacqueline, is known for her fight for women’s and LGBTQ rights. She recently wrote to the mayor of Kampala saying, “We must not allow ourselves to sleepwalk into a future where even the basic freedoms that we take for granted now, such as the freedom to express ourselves and love openly, are suppressed and denied. We must protect our rights here, and talk openly about them, lest we lose them forever.”
In April, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni sent a letter to Parliament stating that a proposed law should explicitly distinguish between someone who professes a homosexual lifestyle and someone who actually commits homosexual acts. He emphasised the need for clarity in the law, ensuring that acts of deviancy and not merely the state of being deviant be criminalised.
The letter was in response to the overturning of a 2014 anti-LGBTQ law by a domestic court. The court found that the law violated procedural standards, leading to the suspension of some aid, visa restrictions, and security cooperation from Western countries. This decision created the need for a reexamination of the law and highlighted the importance of ensuring that the language of the law is clear and unambiguous.
President Museveni stipulated that “a person who is believed or alleged or suspected of being a homosexual who has not committed a sexual act with another person of the same sex does not commit an offence” according to the law. This provision ensures that action is only taken against those who have committed homosexual acts and not those who merely profess a homosexual lifestyle.
This letter from the president is an important first step in crafting an equitable and humane law towards those of the LGBTQ community. Not only does it separately criminalise acts of deviance from the state of being deviant, but it also guarantees non-victimization of individuals only due to the suspicion or allegation of their deviation. However, the language of this law still has to be further clarified in order to guarantee this sentiment, and it is the Parliament’s duty to examine and construct this bill to ensure the protection of LGBTQ individuals.