Legal Challenges to Uganda’s Anti-LGBTQ Act Are Consolidated as Violence Continues to Rise 
South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighters’ party protests against Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act in Pretoria, South Africa.

As violence against LGBTQ people in Uganda continues to rise following the country’s adoption of its harsh Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA), four legal challenges to the law have been consolidated into a single case.

However, Uganda’s Attorney General has ignored human rights groups’ application for an injunction against the implementation of the law until the appeals have been heard, LGBTQ activist Pepe Onziema told Health Policy Watch.

After a series of meetings between the four groups petitioning against the law and Ugandan Constitutional Court Judge Geoffrey Kiryabwire last week, the petitioners agreed to combine their cases.

Five groups have applied to be amicus (friends of the court) to support the court challenge, including the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), a group of pharmaceutical companies (VIIV Healthcare, Glaxosmithkline, Gilead and Merck), academics and the two human rights law organisations (the Southern African Litigation Centre and Centre for Applied Legal Studies).

But Uganda’s Attorney General has objected to the amici and their applications will be heard by a panel of five judges.

The hearing date will be set after a final meeting between the parties and Judge Kiryabwire on 11 December.

“These hearings are usually heard by a panel of five judges,” said Onziema, adding that the application for an injunction “has been ignored by the Attorney General” as “they have never given us an opportunity to present it.”

Ugandan LGBTQ activist Pepe Onziema.

Rape, beatings and evictions

The Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), which has a countrywide network of community paralegals and legal aid centres, handled 83 cases in October involving people targeted for their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is up from 68 cases in September.

One of the attacks involved the rape of a transgender woman in Kampala by two men who followed her home one night, then called her neighbours to “wake up and see a homosexual”.

A woman in the Isingiro district, who provided counselling services to HIV-positive lesbian women, was attacked after being accused of “recruiting women into lesbianism”, and her leg was broken. She was also attacked at her home by the same group and was forced to flee.

HRAPF says 28 of the cases involved violence while 37 people were evicted. The law makes it illegal for landlords to rent property to LGBTQ people.

Meanwhile, this week US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced visa restrictions on “current or former Ugandan officials or others” who are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda or for policies or actions aimed at repressing members of marginalised or vulnerable populations” including “environmental activists, human rights defenders, journalists, LGBTQI+ persons, and civil society organisers”. 

Previously, the US excluded Uganda from its African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) trade programme, which gives preferential treatment to certain trading partners.

However, Ugandan Parliamentary Speaker Anitah Among, a staunch promoter of the AHA, told Parliament this week that she did not regret backing the law despite having her visa application rejected. Meanwhile, MP Jonathan Ebwalu (Soroti West) told Ugandans opposed to the Act to relocate to nations like US and UK , saying he is ready to shed blood “to fight against homosexuality “.

Solidarity as activists ‘walk through fire’

Onziema says that both international, regional and local solidarity have helped the LGBTQ community after the enactment of one of the world’s harshest laws against sexual orientation.

Within Uganda, LGBTQ activists and allies in academia, the medical sector and the hospitality industry have come together to form the Convening for Equality to oppose the law and offer support and often shelter to people.

“Some landlords and hotels have told us that we deserve shelter and have offered us safe places,” said Onziema.

He added that lobbying of politicians, the World Bank and other stakeholders at an international level had opened the door to dialogue between the Ugandan government and the LGBTQ leaders. 

“Much as they say we are Western agents, it seems that they are only interested in engaging with us when Western governments engage them,” said Onziema.

In August, the World Bank suspended new public loans to Uganda after the country passed the Act. The US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relife (Pepfar) has also paused new funding to Uganda.

Onziema appealed to donors to provide unrestricted funds to assist LGBTQ activists “as we are literally walking through fire. There are attacks, kidnappings, and extortion. We have to change tactics all the time as something that works today might not work tomorrow.”

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