ARTICLE 19 stands in solidarity with Uganda’s LGBTQI+ community following parliament’s passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 and its subsequent assent into law on 29 May 2023 by President Yoweri Museveni. The law violates LGBTQI+ communities’ rights to freedom of expression, association, and non-discrimination guaranteed by the Ugandan Constitution and international human rights standards. The law imposes the death penalty or life imprisonment for some same-sex conduct and up to 20 years in prison for ‘promoting and/or funding’ same-sex sexual activities, among other punitive punishments. ARTICLE must uphold its constitutional commitments and repeal the law.
‘The Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 will not only continue to criminalise sexual and gender diverse minorities in the country, but anyone, including media, civil society organisations, and artists, among others, who express themselves about LGBTQI+ matters, including online. It will also lead to an increase in violent attacks and other hate crimes against community members and the possibility of very harsh sentences,’ said Mugambi Kiai, Regional Director For ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.
When parliament passed the bill on 21 March 2023, local and international civil society actors criticised it as excessively punitive and called on President Museveni not to sign it into law. The president sent it back to parliament for review on 20 April 2023 with minor recommendations, including removal of sanctions for identifying as LGBTQI+, but retaining ‘engaging in acts of homosexuality’ as an offence. He also proposed ‘rehabilitation’ for members of the community, among other recommendations.
Crackdown on the LGBTQI+ community in Uganda
The passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 comes after months of public figures and authorities in Uganda using hostile rhetoric and attacking sexual and gender minorities. One example was the closure of the Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) organisation on orders of the NGO Bureau in 2021. ARTICLE 19 called on the NGO Bureau to register SMUG in line with the NGO Act 2016. In early 2023 there were reports that the NGO Bureau carried out investigations into the operations of NGOs across the country suspected to be involved in the promotion of ‘LGBTQI+ activities’, focusing on the legality of the NGOs, profiles of key personnel, and sources of funding, among other lines of enquiry.
The 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Bill is not the first law targeting the LGBTQI+ community to be proposed by Uganda’s legislature. In 2014, parliament passed the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014 and the president gave it his assent, but it was struck down by a constitutional court on grounds that it was passed by MPs without the requisite quorum and was therefore illegal.
In 2019, parliament passed the Sexual Offenses Bill seeking to further criminalise same-sex relationships and sex work. The president, however, rejected it, stating that it needed to be reviewed to address redundancies, as some of the offences were already provided for in the Penal Code.
‘The constitution of Uganda commits the government to uphold human rights for all, including members of the LGBTQI+ community, without discrimination. The government should stop targeting people on account of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and expression,’ added Mugambi.
ARTICLE 19 calls on the government to repeal all laws criminalising sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression, and consensual sexual conduct. The Ugandan government should abide by the commitments it made when it ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which protects all people from discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.