Uganda: Threats to civil and human rights reach crisis point

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07 Mar 2014



ARTICLE 19 condemns the continued attacks directed against civil society and human rights defenders by the Ugandan government.

Over his 28 years in power, Museveni’s government has increasingly suppressed freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association and threatened civil society groups working on a range of issues, including corruption, land, oil, and good governance. In the last 6 months the Uganda government has brought into law the regressive Public Order Management Act, has enacted the Anti-Pornography Act, and now the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

“President Museveni highlighted just how dire the human rights situation has become by signing the Anti-homosexuality Bill into law,” said Henry Maina, Director of ARTICLE 19 East Africa.  “This Act is the latest in a long line of initiatives designed to curtail fundamental freedoms in the country, notably freedom of expression and assembly.  A person in Uganda can now go to prison for expressing an opinion.”

The Anti-Homosexuality Act not only criminalises and provides life imprisonment for same-sex conduct, but also provides in Article 13 between 5 and 7 years imprisonment for the “promotion of homosexuality”. This provision is particularly broad. It encompasses broadcasting, disseminating or publishing “pornographic” materials, funding or sponsoring homosexuality or other “related activities”, and the use of digital technologies for “homosexuality or promoting homosexuality”. Almost all of these key terms are not defined.

“This Act is a direct attack on the freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association rights of all people, and seeks to undermine civil society and public debate” said Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.  “This will deny people information that is essential to engaging in public life and asserting other fundamental rights – in particular the right to an education and the right to health in areas as critical as HIV prevention and treatment”

The Ugandan Human Rights Commission and Uganda Law Society have publicly criticised the Anti-Homosexuality Act as unconstitutional. 

Uganda’s Constitution contains strong protections for the right to freedoms of expression, assembly and association (Article 29) on the basis of equality and freedom from discrimination (Article 21). Uganda has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which protects these rights on terms of equality, including on the basis of sexual orientation. These rights are also protected in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, on terms of equality and non-discrimination.

The Anti-Homosexuality Act is already creating a hostile, violent and discriminatory environment for civil society in Uganda, in particular lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

The day after the law was adopted, Ugandan tabloid “Red Pepper” published the names, photos and addresses of the “Top 200 Homosexuals” in the country. In 2011, human rights activist David Kato was murdered shortly after his name appeared in a similar list published by the paper “Rolling Stone” (now defunct), which called for the execution of homosexuals. In that instance, the High Court of Uganda ruled that the publication violated the rights to dignity and privacy.

ARTICLE 19 calls on:

  • The Ugandan Government to create a safe and enabling environment for civil society, including through the repeal of the Anti-Homosexuality Law and the Anti-Pornography Law, and the substantial amendment of the Public Order Management Act; 
  • The Ugandan media to refrain from reporting that furthers discrimination or negative stereotyping, in particular where it violates the privacy rights of individuals or exposes individuals to risk of violence or intimidation;
  • The UN Human Rights Council to ensure that it condemns the deteriorating situation for civil society in Uganda, and to reaffirm its commitment to the universality of all human rights on terms of equality, including on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.