Ugandan court upholds draconian anti-gay law

Uganda’s Constitutional Court on Tuesday largely upheld a sweeping anti-gay law signed by President Yoweri Museveni last year, undermining efforts by activists and human rights groups to scrap laws that drew global condemnation and strained the East African country’s ties with the West.

The law, signed by Mr Museveni in May, imposes a life sentence for anyone who engages in gay sex. Anyone who attempts to have a same-sex relationship could face up to a decade in prison.

Uganda faced international consequences for passing the law: the World Bank cut off all new funding and the United States imposed sanctions and visa restrictions on senior Ugandan officials. But the law was popular in Uganda, a landlocked nation of more than 48 million people where religious and political leaders often rail against homosexuality.

The impact on Uganda will be closely watched in other African countries, including Kenya, Namibia, Tanzania and South Sudan, where anti-gay sentiment is rising and anti-gay laws are being considered. In February, Ghana’s parliament passed an anti-gay law, but the country’s president said he would not sign it until the Supreme Court ruled on its constitutionality.

In the Ugandan case, Frank Mugisha, a prominent human rights activist and one of the petitioners, said they would appeal the Constitutional Court’s decision to the Supreme Court.

Ugandan law prescribes the death penalty for anyone convicted of “aggravated homosexuality.” This is a broad term that describes acts of same-sex relations with minors or disabled people that are committed under threat or in an unconscious state. Even the accusation of “attempted serious homosexuality,” as the law calls it, is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

The passage of the law – which also imposes heavy fines on organizations convicted of promoting homosexuality – alarmed human rights activists who said it would give new impetus to the introduction of equivalent draconian laws in other African countries. Uganda is among African countries that already ban gay sex, but the new law creates additional offenses and imposes far harsher penalties.

The United Nations, along with local and international human rights groups, said the law contradicted Uganda’s constitution and would likely be used to harass and intimidate the LGBTQ population.

The law was first introduced in early March by a lawmaker who said homosexuality was pervasive and threatened the sanctity of the Ugandan family. Some lawmakers also claimed that their constituents informed them of alleged plans to encourage and recruit schoolchildren into homosexuality – allegations that human rights groups said were false.

There is anti-gay sentiment among Muslim and Christian lawmakers and religious leaders of both faiths. They say homosexuality is a Western import and they held rallies to show their support for the law before it was passed.

A few weeks after its introduction in Parliament, the law was quickly passed, with only two MPs opposing it.

Activists, academics and human rights lawyers who challenged the law in court said it violated not only Uganda’s constitution, which guarantees the right to privacy and freedom from discrimination, but also international treaties, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights . They also argued that the law was passed by Parliament too quickly and was not given enough time for public participation.

Human rights groups said LGBTQ Ugandans have faced intense violence and harassment since the law’s introduction and passage.

Convening for Equality, a coalition of human rights groups in Uganda, has done this documented Hundreds of violations and abuses, including arrests and forced anal examinations. Gay and transgender Ugandans have also been forced from their homes and beaten by family members, forcing many to flee to neighboring countries such as Kenya. In early January, Steve Kabuye, a prominent gay rights advocate, was stabbed to death in an attack that activists say was sparked by homophobia surrounding the law. Mr. Kabuye has since fled to Canada with the help of a non-governmental organization.

The passage of the law also had an immediate impact on Uganda. Health experts also feared the law would hinder medical access for gay people, particularly those seeking HIV testing, prevention and treatment.

The United States announced it Restrict visas for current and former Ugandan officials who were found responsible for implementing anti-gay policies. The Biden administration also issued one Business consulting for Uganda And the country removed from a special program which allows duty-free access for African products to the United States.

The World Bank also commented on this in August, citing the anti-homosexual law would stop all future funding to Uganda. Economic pressure continued to mount and foreign travelers and investors stayed away from Uganda.

Ahead of the verdict, Mr. Museveni remained publicly defiant, but analysts and diplomats said he was privately worried about his country being labeled a pariah and the devastating economic impact that would have.

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