21 March 2023 an extreme Anti-Homosexuality Bill was passed by an overwhelming majority in the Ugandan parliament. The Rafto Foundation condemns the bill in the most categorical terms. We are increasingly worried about the safety of all LGBTQI+ persons in Uganda, and especially for publicly known advocates of LGBTIQ+ rights, such as Franks Mugisha and the other activists working for Rafto Laureate 2011 Sexual Minorities Uganda.
The bill is now sent to the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, for approval or veto. The President shall make his decision within thirty days. Rafto urges all actors with influence to provide good reasons for the President to veto the bill.
The draconian content of the bill, which revives the infamous “Kill the Gays” Bill struck down by the Constitutional Court of Uganda in 2014, is more severe than even the most ominous predictions made when the formal legislative process was initiated by the end of February this year. In an unofficial final text compiled by NGOs in Uganda who monitored the parliamentary proceedings, the following provisions are included:
- The bill prohibits “homosexual acts” among consenting adults, with a punishment of life in prison, or with death if the act is repeated.
- Acts considered “attempts” to perform a “homosexual act” may be punished with ten years imprisonment, fourteen years if an attempt is repeated.
- Children, defined as persons under the age of 18, who engage in consensual “homosexual acts” will risk imprisonment for up to three years.
- Knowingly keeping or owning premises where “homosexual acts” take place, and also facilitating or just witnessing a formal or informal marriage of homosexuals, is prohibited with a punishment of ten years in prison.
- All kinds of publication and dissemination of material “promoting or encouraging” homosexuality, or the “observance or normalization” of homosexual conduct, is prohibited and to be punished with twenty years’ imprisonment.
- Finally, the bill imposes on anyone aware of homosexual activity a duty to inform the police, the failure of which may result in six months’ imprisonment.
Considered underway towards abolishment of the death penalty as recently as in the autumn of 2022, the Parliament has now reintroduced it for the “offense of homosexuality”. Apart from this threat to the right to life for a “crime” which the bill itself recognizes does not necessary have a victim, the bill appears in the most obvious violation of a series of basic human rights:
Included are certainly the right to equality and freedom from discrimination; the right to privacy; the right to dignity and freedom from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; the right to freedom of speech, assembly, and organization. More indirectly, the bill will constrain the right to access health care and the right to property.
“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. It could provide carte blanche for the systematic violation of nearly all of their human rights and serve to incite people against each other” states Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Regardless of whether President Museweni will sign the bill or not, it has already done significant damage, by providing an informal legitimation for the violence and exclusion of LGBTIQ+ persons injustice carried out both by public officials and private citizens across the country. 110 LGBTIQ+ persons reported arrests, sexual violence, evictions and public undressing in February 2023.
The attack on LGBTIQ+ is motivated especially by preachers in both anglican and pentecostal denominations across the country. U.S. evangelicals seem to be important contributors to the hate speech which scapegoats and vilifies LGBTIQ+ by actively confusing consensual relations among adults with adult abuse of children, homosexuality with pedophilia, and fabricating false accusations against gay rights defenders.
Homosexuality is also described as an illegitimate western import, while ignoring both that the first laws in Uganda prohibiting expression of homosexual identity and sexual orientation was introduced by the British colonial authorities, and that the current campaign vilifying homosexuality is heavily influenced by US evangelicals.
The activities of the network of churches and parliamentarians championing this bill extends beyond the borders of Uganda, and there is significant concern that their recent success will inspire similar initiatives in other countries, for example Ghana, Burundi, Kenya, Zambia.
The Rafto foundation again urges all states, business entities and civil society organizations, as well as private citizens with relations in Uganda, to voice their condemnation of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and consider in what ways engagement with Ugandan authorities will make them co-responsible for the escalation of human rights violations taking place in the country, affecting not merely the LGBTIQ+ subculture, but the entire population.