Swift Condemnation for ‘World Worst’ Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act
Uganda’s Speaker of Parliament, Anita Among, during the passing of the Act.

The United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk has called on Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni not to promulgate the Anti-Homosexuality Act his country’s Parliament passed on Tuesday night.

Describing the Act as “probably among the worst of its kind in the world”, Türk said that, “if signed into law by the president, it will render lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Uganda criminals simply for existing, for being who they are”. 

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the Act would “undermine fundamental human rights of all Ugandans and could reverse gains in the fight against HIV/AIDS”, and urged the Ugandan government to “strongly reconsider the implementation of this legislation”.

The Act introduces “the offence of homosexuality”, with a potential life sentence for a same-sex “sexual act”. It also criminalises a person who “holds out as a lesbian, gay, transgender, a queer or any other sexual or gender identity that is contrary to the binary categories of male and female”.

It also proposes the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”, including sex acts with children, disabled people or those drugged against their will, or committed by people living with HIV. 

Landlords face prison sentences for renting premises to homosexuals, journalists face 20-year sentences for “promoting homosexuality” and even lawyers may face fines for representing gay clients.

The Act was proposed by Asuman Basalirwa from Bugiri and had the near-unanimous support of MPs.

Ugandan gay activist Frank Mugisha, told Reuters that if the Act becomes law, he will challenge it in court on grounds that it was unconstitutional and violated various international treaties to which Uganda is a signatory. 

However, Mugisha also said that he feared mob violence and the mass arrest of LGBTQ people, adding that his community would be too afraid to seek treatment at health centres and warned of the mental health damage, including an increased risk of suicide.

“The Bill confuses consensual and non-consensual relations – the former should never be criminalized, whereas the latter require evidence-based measures to end sexual violence in all its forms – including against children, no matter the gender or sexual orientation of the perpetrator. This bill will be a massive distraction from taking the necessary action to end sexual violence,” the UN High Commissioner said.

Rise in anti-LGBTQ activity

“Not only does it conflict with Uganda’s own constitutional provisions stipulating equality and non-discrimination for all – it also runs counter to the country’s international legal obligations on human rights and political commitments on sustainable development, and actively puts people­’s rights, health and safety at grave risk,” he added.

There has been a rise in homophobic sentiments, particularly among politicians and religious leaders in Uganda and neighbouring Kenya over the past few months

The OHCHR said that,  according to a report from a civil society group, in February alone more than 110 LGBTQI+ people “reported incidents, including arrests, sexual violence, evictions and public stripping”.

“Let us be clear: this is not about ‘values’. Promoting violence and discrimination against people for who they are and who they love is wrong and any disingenuous attempts to justify this on the basis of ‘values’ should be called out and condemned,” Türk said.

Meanwhile, UNAIDS has warned that, if the Act becomes law, it will curtail “the human rights of people living with HIV and some of the most vulnerable people of Uganda to access life-saving services”. 

“If enacted, this law will undermine Uganda’s efforts to end AIDS by 2030, by violating fundamental human rights including the right to health and the very right to life,” said UNAIDS East and Southern Africa Director Anne Githuku-Shongwe.  

“Research in sub-Saharan Africa shows that, in countries which criminalize homosexuality, HIV prevalence is five times higher among men who have sex with men than it is in countries without such laws,” said UNAIDS, calling on Museveni not to enact the Bill as it will  “cost lives and it will drive up new HIV infections”. 

“The harmful Act stands in marked contrast to a positive wave of decriminalization taking place in Africa and across the world, in which harmful punitive colonial legislation is being removed in country after country. Decriminalisation saves lives and benefits everyone.”

Describing the Act as “an extreme violation of human rights”, International AIDS Society (IAS) warned that it “threatens to reverse the country’s progress in the HIV response”. “Criminalizing LGBTQ+ people is wholly incompatible with an effective HIV response,” said the IAS.

In opposition to HIV response

“While Uganda has made considerable gains in reducing the impact of HIV, gay men and other men who have sex with men, trans people and sex workers continue to be less likely than the general population to access HIV treatment, prevention and care services and will be further threatened by this legislation.

“In 2021, key populations (gay men and other men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, trans people, and sex workers) and their sexual partners accounted for 51% of new HIV acquisitions in central, eastern, southern and western Africa. This underscores the urgent need for governments in the region to work with, not against, communities most vulnerable to HIV.”

The IAS also noted that the Act is also “completely in opposition to President Museveni’s stated support for the HIV response. UNAIDS and others lauded the President when he launched The Presidential Fast-track Initiative on ending HIV & AIDS in Uganda by 2030, the first such initiative globally.”

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