Last week, Uganda’s parliament passed one of the harshest anti-gay legislations in the world, criminalising anyone who identifies as LGBTQ. As per the law, violators may recieve harsh penalties, including the death penalty for ‘aggravated homosexuality’ and life imprisonment for gay sex. ‘Aggravated homosexuality’, a broad term encapsulating perpetrators who are HIV positive, among other categories, would also carry a life sentence for those convicted. This also means that disabled people would be denied the capacity to consent. Moreover, the bill makes it illegal to promote homosexuality, creating a system of complete censorship of LGBTQ issues. Those advocating for LGBTQ rights or providing financial support for such organisations could face up to 20 years in prison.
This bill provides authorities with broad provisions to target gay Ugandans, who are already facing the brunt of immense discrimination. Many activists and human rights organisations have criticised the East African nation for passing the law, dubbing it ‘Kill the Gays Bill” as it would effectively ban queer people from any form of social engagement in the country. According to BBC, The White House has warned Uganda of possible economic repercussions if the new law comes into force. The USA currently provides Uganda with an annual assistance budget exceeding $950 million as well as health assistance through PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief).
Parliamentary Speaker Anita Annet announced the passing and was met with cheers and applause in the packed parliamentary chamber. 283 of 389 legislators supported the bill. The law now awaits the assent of President Yoweri Museveni, who has always staunchly opposed the rights of LGBTQ persons. If the bill passes into law, apart from the criminalisation of homosexuality, friends, family and members of the community would also have a duty to report individuals in same-sex relationships to the authorities. Anyone who fails to report such relationships would face punishment.
Supporters of the bill have said that the lifestyle of the LGBTQ community threatens traditional values. While more than 30 African countries, including Uganda, already prohibit same-sex relationships, Human Rights Watch reported that no other country penalises an individual for merely identifying as LGBTQ. Same-sex relations are legal in only 22 of Africa’s 54 countries, and are punishable by death or lengthy prison terms in some, according to a global review by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA).
In Kenya, a February ruling by the Supreme Court upheld verdicts by lower courts stating that the government could not lawfully refuse to register an organisation calling itself the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC). But President William Ruto and many religious leaders and political pundits have been condemning the court’s conclusion that the constitution barred discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Critics are afraid that recent development might fuel an ongoing witchhunt of LGBTQ+ people. This month, Ugandan authorities arrested a secondary school teacher in the eastern district of Jinja over accusations of “grooming of young girls into unnatural sex practices”. She faces charges of gross indecency and is in prison awaiting trial. This is just one of many similar cases that have recently happened in the country.
With a risk of an increase in physical violence, false accusations and extortion, Ugandans are terrified they will lose access to even basic necessities. All eyes are now on President Yoweri Museveni who can choose to use his veto – and maintain good relations with Western donors and investors – or sign it into law.