CAHR response to Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Act

News | Posted on Monday 5 June 2023

The Centre for Applied Human Rights is deeply concerned by the passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill by the Ugandan Parliament, which introduces severe punishments for members of the LGBTI+ community and activists, including the death penalty.

Homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda but this new law broadens the list of offences and calls for far stricter punishments. The new bill signed on 29 May 2023 intensifies the crackdown on LGBTI+ people calling for life imprisonment for anyone who engages in gay sex.

Anyone who attempts to have same-sex relations could be liable for up to 10 years in prison. The law also decrees the death penalty for anyone convicted of “aggravated homosexuality,” which is partially defined as acts of same-sex relations with someone below the age of 18 or disabled people. 

The bill further restricts freedom of association and expression by proposing a punishment of up to 20 years in prison for the “promotion of homosexuality.” It also vaguely criminalises provision of support, whether in kind or financially, to facilitate activities that encourage homosexuality ostensibly targeting individuals, media outlets and organizations working on LGBTI+ rights.

Uganda had passed a previous anti-homosexuality law in 2014, but the courts subsequently annulled it on procedural grounds following sanctions from international donors. A new anti-homosexuality bill was presented to the Ugandan Parliament on 21 March 2023 and this was passed with 387 out of 389 MPs voting in its favour.

In April 2023 Uganda’s President, Yoweri Museveni refused to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law, sending it back to Parliament for reconsideration of several clauses. On 2 May 2023, 341 MPs voted for the amended bill, sending it back to President Museveni who assented to it on 29 May 2023. 

Uganda is one of several countries that have laws that decree the death penalty be given to adults who have taken part in consensual same-sex acts. Yet, the criminalisation of homosexuality is contrary to international human rights law which states that criminalising private sexual relationships between consenting adults, whether they are same-sex or different-sex, is a violation to the right to privacy.

Recent years have seen a rise in homophobia and anti-gay sentiment in Uganda and the threat of imprisonment had already forced many in the LGBTI+ community to flee the country.  

“There’s fear that this law will embolden many Ugandans to take the law into their hands,” said Frank Mugisha, the most prominent gay rights activist in Uganda speaking to the New York Times. Frank Mugisha, Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), and winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award and Thorolf Rafto Memorial Prize 2011, was invited to speak at the opening of David Kato College at the University of York in March 2023.

David Kato was a Ugandan human rights defender and gay rights activist, who came to the University of York as a Protective Fellow on the Human Rights Defenders Programme at the Centre for Applied Human Rights. Shortly after his time in York, David returned home but was murdered in 2011.

David's work had a significant impact on the rights of LGBTI+ people in Uganda and we are proud to honour his life and legacy by naming our newest college in his memory. As a University of Sanctuary, we stand in firm solidarity with LGBTI+ activists in Uganda.