On Tuesday, Ugandan lawmakers approved new legislation that entrenches the criminalization of same-sex conduct. It also creates new offences that will curtail any activism on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues and eradicate LGBT people from any form of social engagement in Uganda.
Like its predecessor, the 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Bill expands on the criminalization of same-sex acts, including broad prohibitions on acts such as touching another person “with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality.” People found guilty of the “offense of homosexuality” may be imprisoned for up to 10 years.
But one of the most egregious provisions – the bill calls it “aggravated homosexuality” – calls for the death penalty in certain circumstances, including for “serial offenders,” or for anyone having same-sex relations with a person with a disability, thereby automatically denying persons with disabilities the capacity to consent to sex.
Uganda’s penal code already punishes “carnal knowledge against the order of nature,” which is interpreted to mean homosexual relations, with a punishment of life in prison, although the provision, a colonial remnant, is rarely enforced. In introducing the bill, Basaliriwa said its purpose was to “look at this colonial law and have it in tandem with the current situation.”
The reintroduction of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill follows months of hostile rhetoric against sexual and gender minorities by public figures in Uganda, as well as government crackdowns on LGBT-rights groups and other human rights groups, government critics, and civil society.
“This deeply repressive legislation will institutionalise discrimination, hatred, and prejudice against LGBTQ people – including those who are perceived to be LGBTI – and block the legitimate work of civil society, public health professionals, and community leaders,” said Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s director for East and Southern Africa.
What does the bill say?
The final version has yet to be officially published but elements discussed in parliament include:
- A person who is convicted of grooming or trafficking children for purpose of engaging them in homosexual activities faces life in prison
- Individuals or institutions which support or fund LGBT rights activities or organisations, or publish, broadcast and distribute pro-gay media material and literature, also face prosecution and imprisonment
- Media groups, journalists and publishers face prosecution and imprisonment for publishing, broadcasting, and distributing any content that advocates for gay rights or “promotes homosexuality”
- Death penalty for what is described as “aggravated homosexuality”, that is sexual abuse of a child, a person with a disability or vulnerable people, or in cases where a victim of homosexual assault is infected with a life-long illness
- Property owners also face the risk of being jailed if their premises are used as a “brothel” for homosexual acts or any other sexual minorities rights activities
It has also been condemned by both the UK’s Africa Minister Andrew Mitchell and the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The White House has warned Uganda of possible economic repercussions if the new law comes into force.
The bill will now go to President Yoweri Museveni who can choose to use his veto – and maintain good relations with Western donors and investors – or sign it into law.