Law could be first to criminalize identification as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ): Rights Watch
Uganda’s parliament has passed sweeping anti-gay legislation that proposes harsh new penalties for same-sex relationships and criminalizes anyone who identifies as LGBTQ.
While more than 30 African countries, including Uganda, already ban same-sex relationships, the new law passed Tuesday appears to be the first to ban merely identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ), said Human Rights Watch. .
“They’ve got it,” parliament chair Anita Annet Among said after the final vote, adding that the “bill was passed in record time.”
Lawmakers changed major parts of the original bill, and all but one spoke against the bill. Proponents of the harsh legislation say it is necessary to sanction a wider range of LGBTQ activities, which they say threaten traditional values in the conservative and religious East African nation.
The legislation will now be sent to President Yoweri Museveni to be signed into law.
Museveni has not commented on the current legislation, but has long opposed LGBTQ rights, signing an anti-LGBTQ law in 2013 that was condemned by Western countries before a national court struck it down on procedural grounds. Nevertheless, the 78-year-old leader has consistently indicated that he does not see the issue as a priority, preferring to maintain good relations with Western donors and investors.
Discussion of the bill in parliament was riddled with homophobic rhetoric, with politicians confusing child sexual abuse with consensual same-sex activity between adults.
“Our creator God is pleased with what is happening… I support the bill to protect our children’s future,” lawmaker David Bahati said during the debate on the bill.
“This is about the sovereignty of our nation. No one can blackmail us, no one can intimidate us.”
In addition to same-sex sexual intercourse, the law prohibits promoting and inciting homosexuality, as well as conspiracy to engage in homosexuality.
Violations of the law also carry stiff penalties, including death for so-called “aggravated” homosexuality and life in prison for gay sex. Aggravated homosexuality by law includes gay sex with people under the age of 18 or when a person is HIV positive.
In recent months, conspiracy theories accusing shadowy international forces of promoting homosexuality have gained popularity on social media in Uganda.
Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a leading gay rights organization whose activities were suspended by authorities last year, told AFP news agency earlier this month that he had already been inundated with calls from LGBTQ people about the new law.
“Community members live in fear,” he said.
In an opinion presented to a Ugandan parliamentary committee earlier this month, Human Rights Watch said the new law would “violate several fundamental rights guaranteed by the Ugandan constitution and international human rights instruments to which Uganda is a party”.
“Criminalization of same-sex consensual behavior contributes to a climate where violence and discrimination against LGBT people is widespread,” the organization said.
Last week, police said they had arrested six men for “practicing homosexuality” in the southern lakeside town of Jinja. Six more men were arrested on the same charge on Sunday, according to police.
“One of the most extreme features of this new bill is that it criminalizes people simply for being who they are, and further infringes on the rights to privacy, freedom of expression and association already established in Uganda in the at stake,” says Oryem Nyeko. , Uganda expert at Human Rights Watch.
“Ugandan politicians should focus on passing laws that protect vulnerable minorities and affirm fundamental rights and stop attacking LGBT people for political capital,” he said.
Do you realize that when parliament passes a bill that is regressive to one set of human rights, it only opens the door to other even worse laws? This affects you whether you are gay or not.
— Oryem Nyeko (@oryembley) March 21, 2023