Uganda’s Constitutional Court upholds anti-gay law that allows the death penalty


KAMPALA – Uganda’s Constitutional Court has rejected a petition seeking to annul an anti-gay law that has been roundly condemned internationally as one of the toughest in the world.

Ugandan court upholds anti-gay law that allows the death penalty
A view of the panel of five judges led by the country's deputy chief justice, Richard Buteera during the hearing of consolidated petitions challenging the contentious and controversial anti-homosexuality law, at the Constitutional Court, in Kampala, on Dec. 18, 2023. [Hajarah Nalwadda/AP Photo]

The court found on Wednesday that some sections of the law violated the right to health and it was “inconsistent with right to health, privacy and freedom of religion” but did not block or suspend the law.

“We decline to nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 in its entirety, neither will we grant a permanent injunction against its enforcement,” Justice Richard Buteera, Uganda’s deputy chief justice and head of the court, said in the landmark ruling.

According to Ugandan television station NTV, the five-member court reached a unanimous decision to reject the petition against the law, which enjoys broad popular support in the country.

In a statement posted on X, the Uganda-based Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum warned that the decision “unfortunately will fuel human rights violations” against the gay community in the country.

Steven Kabuye, a 25-year old activist and executive director of the advocacy group Colored Voice Truth to LGBTQ, also warned against the dangers of the court decision. In January, he was stabbed by unknown assailants after receiving death threats for his advocacy.

“The court’s decision opens a ‘Pandora’s box’ that will push the lives of gay Ugandans further more into darkness,” he wrote on X.

The legislation was adopted in May, triggering outrage among the LGBTQ community, rights campaigners, the United Nations and Western nations.

The Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 imposes penalties of up to life in prison for consensual same-sex relations and contains provisions that make “aggravated homosexuality” an offence punishable by death.

President Yoweri Museveni’s government has struck a defiant tone with officials accusing the West of trying to pressure Africa into accepting homosexuality.

The Constitutional Court in Kampala began hearing the case in December.

The petition was brought by two law professors from Makerere University in Kampala, legislators from the ruling party and human rights activists.

They said the law violates fundamental rights guaranteed by Uganda’s Constitution, including freedom from discrimination and the right to privacy.

The petitioners also said it contravenes Uganda’s commitments under international human rights law, including the UN Convention against Torture.

West trying to ‘coerce us’

A 20-year-old man became the first Ugandan to be charged with “aggravated homosexuality” under the law in August.

He was accused of “unlawful sexual intercourse with … [a] male adult aged 41”, an offence punishable by death.

Uganda, a conservative and predominantly Christian country in East Africa, is well known for its intolerance of homosexuality.

It has resisted pressure from rights organisations, the UN and foreign governments to repeal the law.

In August, the World Bank announced that it was suspending new loans to Uganda over the law because it “fundamentally contradicts” the values espoused by the international institution.

“In December, Ugandan Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Henry Okello Oryem accused the West of seeking “to coerce us into accepting same-sex relationships using aid and loans”.

In 2014, international donors had slashed aid to Uganda after Museveni approved a bill that sought to impose life sentences for homosexual relations, which was later overturned.

The ruling is part of a growing anti-gay crackdown across Africa. Ghana passed stringent anti-gay legislation in February, intensifying a crackdown on the rights of LGBTQ people.

Homosexuality is criminalised in more than 30 of Africa’s 54 countries. Some Africans see it as behaviour imported from abroad and not a sexual orientation.

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