In the aftermath of President Yoweri Museveni signing into law the so-called “Anti-Homosexuality Act”, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) stands in solidarity with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in Uganda. The ICJ vehemently condemns Uganda’s continual clampdown on the human rights of LGBTI persons and strongly denounces the passage of this discriminatory law.
In view of the forthcoming examination of Uganda’s human rights record under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) later this month, the ICJ made a submission to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee, the body of independent experts who will review Uganda’s record, to express profound alarm at the enactment of the “Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023”, and about other concerns arising from Uganda’s failure to comply with its human rights obligations.
On 26 May 2023, President Museveni signed into law the “Anti-Homosexuality Bill”, two months after it was passed by the Ugandan Parliament, a move that the international community has rightly condemned.
Uganda has long been a particularly hostile country to LGBTI persons. Even prior to the enactment of the “Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023”, colonial-era laws, such as the Penal Code Act (1950), already criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations and had been used to persecute LGBTI individuals. Sections 145, 146 and 148 of the Penal Code make it a criminal offence for people to engage consensually in acts of “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” and “gross indecency”. As a result, the Penal Code already violates a range of human rights. People convicted of and sentenced for such “offence” are already liable to extremely harsh punishments. For example, section 145 of the Penal Code carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and seven years’ imprisonment for attempts to commit any of the acts prohibited by it.
The “Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023” creates new “criminal offences”, including “the offence of homosexuality”, which also prohibits consensual same-sex sexual activity, carrying a sentence of life imprisonment upon conviction and ten years’ imprisonment for attempts to commit the offence. Also new is the offence of “aggravated homosexuality”, making those convicted liable to capital punishment. Moreover, the Act makes it an offence to engage in advocacy in support of the human rights of LGBTI individuals, going on to make it punishable with a sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment and a hefty fine for a legal entity, such as a non-governmental organization, that has been found to commit the offence of “promoting homosexuality”.
Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, ICJ Africa Regional Director, expressed deep concern about the enactment of the Act, stating,
“This regressive step will only serve to further marginalize and violate the human rights of LGBTI persons, who are already subjected to discrimination and often violence. It contravenes international human rights law and standards, which guarantee the rights to life, equality, non-discrimination, liberty and security of person, and freedom of expression and association, to everyone, whatever their real or imputed sexual orientation and/or gender identity or gender expression or sex characteristics.”
The “Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023” also explicitly reinforces the prohibition on same-sex marriage; it imposes a duty on all persons to report those who have or are suspected of committing “an offence” under the Act to the police; and makes provision for a court to order that a person convicted of the “offence of homosexuality” be provided with “rehabilitation” services.
As a result, the Act violates the human rights of LGBTI individuals, including the rights to: life, equality; non-discrimination; liberty and security of person; dignity; freedom from torture or other ill-treatment; freedom of expression; freedom of association and privacy.
The “Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023” fosters further stigma, discrimination and violence against individuals based on animosity and even hatred motivated by their real or imputed sexual orientation and/or gender identity or gender expression. Through the adoption of this latest piece of legislation, Uganda has enhanced its persecutory legal framework. As such, the enactment of this draconian law will have far-reaching consequences for the lives and human rights of LGBTI persons in Uganda.
“The ICJ is profoundly concerned by the increasing crackdown on the human rights of LGBTI persons in Uganda. This law not only violates their human rights, but also threatens to stifle the vital work of human rights defenders advocating for the human rights of LGBTI people by impeding their ability to effectively engage in human rights advocacy,” Ramjathan-Keogh further emphasized.
The ICJ calls for the repeal of the law and urges the Ugandan government to respect, promote and protect the human rights of LGBTI persons in accordance with the country’s obligations under international human rights law. Additionally, the ICJ urges the Ugandan authorities to repeal other legal provisions that violate the human rights of LGBTI individuals, such as sections 145, 146 and 148 of the Penal Code Act.
Ramjathan-Keogh concluded, “Uganda must recognize that human rights are universal and indivisible, and all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity or gender expression or sex characteristics, are entitled to enjoy human rights and to equal protection under the law.”
Several human rights activists and civil society organizations advocating for the human rights of LGBTI persons have filed a petition in the Ugandan Constitutional Court to challenge the “Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023”. The ICJ will continue to closely monitor the situation in Uganda and seek to provide support to LGBTI individuals and human rights defenders striving for equality and justice, where possible.
The ICJ’s submission to the Committee addresses a range of different issues:
- with respect to the persecution of LGBTI people in the country: violations of the right to life, of the right to freedom from discrimination, of the right to equality before the law and equal protection of the law without discrimination, of the right to liberty and security of person, and of the right to be treated with humanity in detention;
- violations of Uganda’s obligations to administer justice and maintain judicial independence; and
- violations of the right to freedom of expression, of the right to participation in public affairs and of the right to equality before the law and equal protection of the law without discrimination.
Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, ICJ Africa Director Africa Programme, Kaajal.Keogh@icj.org
Mulesa Lumina, ICJ Africa Legal and Communications Associate Officer, Mulesa.Lumina@icj.org
During its 138th session, from 26 June to 26 July 2023, the UN Human Rights Committee will examine Uganda’s implementation of and compliance with the ICCPR, including in light of Uganda’s second periodic report under article 40 of the ICCPR and its replies to the Committee’s List of issues in relation to the second periodic report of Uganda.
Uganda has made repeated attempts to crackdown and suppress the human rights of LGBTI persons, including through the enactment of the “Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023,” and its 2014 predecessor.
Uganda is a State Party to a number of international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights , the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter) and the Protocol to the African Charter on and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. In terms of its international human rights obligations, Uganda must uphold the human rights of LGBTI persons to life, dignity and equality, non-discrimination, privacy, liberty and security of persons, among others, and ensure that they are protected from discrimination and violence.
Together, the Yogyakarta Principles and the Yogyakarta Principles Plus 10 are an authoritative affirmation of the human rights of LGBTI persons and provide guidance on the obligations of States as regards the application of international human rights law and standards in relation to sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics. In addition, Resolution 275 of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on Protection against Violence and other Human Rights violations against Persons on the basis of their real or imputed sexual orientation or gender identity reiterates that the African Charter protects the human rights of all persons, including LGBTI persons, to non-discrimination, equality, life, dignity and freedom from torture. The resolution also calls on all States to put in place measures that will end violence and discrimination against LGBTI persons.
In addition, “The 8 March Principles for a Human Rights-Based Approach to Criminal Law Proscribing Conduct Associated with Sex, Reproduction, Drug Use, HIV, Homelessness and Poverty”, recently published by the ICJ, offer a clear, accessible, and operational legal framework and practical legal guidance for a variety of stakeholders, including judges and legislators, on the application of criminal law to conduct associated with consensual sexual activities, such as consensual same-sex sexual relations and sex work (Principles 16 and 17); as well as on the criminalization of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression (Principle 18); and sexual and reproductive health and rights (Principle 14). In particular, Principle 16 on consensual sexual conduct, among other things, states: “Consensual sexual conduct, irrespective of the type of sexual activity, the sex/ gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression of the people involved or their marital status, may not be criminalized in any circumstances. Consensual same-sex, as well as consensual different-sex sexual relations, or consensual sexual relations with or between trans, non-binary and other gender- diverse people, or outside marriage – whether pre-marital or extramarital – may, therefore, never be criminalized.”AdvocacyNewsNon-legal submissionsPress releases