Ugandan Court Dismisses Plea from LGBT Advocacy Organization

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Uganda dismissal SMUG’s petition

Recent Legal Setback for Ugandan LGBT Community : Uganda dismissal SMUG’s petition

In a recent judicial development that undermines the rights to freedom of association and expression in Uganda, the appeals court dismissed a lawsuit by Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG). This group, which champions the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, sought to force the government to officially recognize its name. The court dismissed the plea, stating that the group’s name contradicts the “public interest.” As a result, without formal registration—which was denied to SMUG in August 2022 due to non-compliance with NGO Bureau requirements—the organization is left unable to function lawfully.

First Year of the Anti-Homosexuality Act

The nation also observes the first year since the enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) on March 21, 2023, regarded as one of the most severe anti-LGBT legislations globally, ratified by President Yoweri Museveni. Presently, the Supreme Court is evaluating challenges to this oppressive law brought forward by various human rights defenders, journalists, scholars, and religious figures. This legislation forms part of a wider governmental crackdown targeting not only LGBT rights but also other civil society segments, including environmental advocates.

Long Battle for Legal Recognition

Since its inception in 2004, SMUG has been actively involved in educational initiatives about sexuality and advocating for health services. However, it has faced obstacles in gaining legal recognition for over ten years. Its initial registration request was turned down by the Uganda Registration Services Bureau in 2012, citing the organization’s name as contrary to public policy. Moreover, they were labeled as a criminal entity under section 145 of the Penal Code Act, due to the implication of “sexual minorities” in their name and their engagement with individuals participating in criminalized sexual behaviors. An earlier court decision upheld this verdict in June 2018, which was then appealed by SMUG.

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The decision last week reconfirmed the stance of previous court judgments, primarily focusing on the issue related to the organization’s name. The ruling underscored SMUG’s commitment to supporting and defending the rights of LGBT individuals, who are deemed lawbreakers under the AHA.

Human Rights Advocates Express Discontent

The verdict has prompted dismay among various human rights proponents who see this as a lost chance to defend the essential human rights of LGBT individuals, such as the freedoms of association and expression.

“This is invalidating all the advocacy work that has been done for years and gives the Anti-Homosexuality Act and all homophobes more power over people’s lives, bodies, and rights,” a Ugandan queer and feminist advocate explained to Human Rights Watch.

Call for Change by Authorities

The situation surrounding SMUG highlights the unjust and arbitrary limitations imposed on human rights advocates in Uganda. The authorities are urged to cease their harassment of LGBT individuals and organizations and to instead enact measures that safeguard vulnerable groups while upholding essential liberties.

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