Uganda’s Constitutional Court Upholds Controversial Anti-LGBTQ+ Law

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Ugandan court upholds anti-gay law

Court’s Decision Sparks Outrage Among Human Rights Advocates

The Constitutional Court of Uganda, on Wednesday, dismissed an appeal that sought the repeal of a repressive anti-LGBTQ+ law in the East African nation, inciting a wave of dismay among human rights organizations.

The “Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023”

Named the “Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023,” the legislation imposes severe penalties for homosexual relationships and the “promotion” of homosexuality. The act includes a clause for “aggravated homosexuality” that is liable to capital punishment, although such a sentence has not been enforced in Uganda for many years.

The enactment of this law in March 2023 raised serious concerns among several Western countries, international bodies (UN, World Bank), and human rights defense organizations, all calling for its annulment. The United States responded by imposing sanctions on the country.

International and Local Opposition

Volker Türk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressing “dismay” in a statement on Wednesday, once again urged the Ugandan government to “completely repeal” the law, previously branding it as “possibly the worst of its kind in the world.”

Ugandan human rights activists, two law professors from a university in the capital, Kampala, and two parliamentarians from the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) had approached the Constitutional Court to block the law, deeming it illegal. They argued it violated fundamental rights protected by the Constitution and was passed without proper consultation with the populace, as required by Ugandan law.

“This application essentially called for the annulment of the entire Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2023,” stated Judge Richard Buteera on Wednesday: “After deliberation, (…) we refuse to annul the Anti-Homosexuality Act in its entirety and will also not grant a permanent injunction against its enforcement.”

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However, the panel of five judges did eliminate several provisions they found incompatible with international conventions, such as penalizing the failure to report homosexual acts.

Mixed Reactions to the Court’s Ruling

Nicholas Opiyo, the lawyer who defended the appeal, criticized the decision on X as a “summary judgment” that failed to rise “above the intolerance and sentiments of the public.”

MP Fox Odoi-Oywelowo lamented an “expected” verdict, even though he believes “the law is bad for the country.”

The plaintiffs had not commented on a possible appeal to the Supreme Court as of Wednesday evening.

“This decision is disappointing and represents a missed opportunity to protect fundamental human rights,” lamented Oryem Nyeko, a researcher on Uganda for Human Rights Watch, to AFP.

Conversely, Anita Among, the Speaker of Parliament, hailed the decision as a “great achievement for Uganda” to AFP. “This decision proves that all branches of the government, the parliament, the executive, and the judiciary, share a common goal: to protect Uganda from any negative foreign influence,” she celebrated.

President Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1986, had vowed not to succumb to Western pressures and enacted the law in May.

The law enjoys widespread support in Uganda, a predominantly conservative Christian nation, where lawmakers view it as a necessary barrier against the presumed immorality of the West.

Sanctions and International Warnings

The United States, the European Union, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres have warned Ugandan authorities that foreign aid and investment in the country could be jeopardized if the law remains in effect.

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The US administration announced in early December that it would no longer grant visas to Ugandan officials enforcing the law and removed Uganda from a significant trade agreement, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), as of January.

The World Bank also announced in August that it would suspend all new loans to the country due to the legislation being “fundamentally contrary” to its values.

In 2014, international donors had already reduced their aid following the passage of a law imposing life imprisonment for homosexual relations, which was ultimately annulled by the Constitutional Court due to a procedural error during the vote.

Homosexuality remains illegal in many East African countries, where campaigns of repression and stigmatization are fueled by conservative religious groups, both Muslim and Christian.

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