Uganda: Why Government Is Reintroducing Anti-Gay Law

Ugandan LGBT+ refugees who left their country because of anti-gay laws gather to celebrate International LGBTQI Refugee Day on the outskirts of the Kenyan capital Nairobi on June 27, 2019.

A t the end of August, the Ethics and Integrity minster, Fr Simon Lokodo, said his predecessor, Mr James Nsaba Buturo, would take leave of Parliament to reintroduce a private member's Bill against homosexuality.

This came more than five years since President Museveni, on February 24, 2014, signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law before both local and international media.

It became the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA), 2014. The President, flanked by ministers, MPs and senior health practitioners, said people who engage in same-sex relations are mercenaries recruiting young people into gay activities to get money.

"Homosexuals are nurtured but not natured. No study has shown that one can be a homosexual purely by nature. Since nurture is the cause, that is why I have agreed to sign the Bill into law," Mr Museveni said.

This, however, provoked international outrage, with Western countries threatening to stop providing aid to government. Among the countries that went ahead with this move was the United States.

"I encourage the US government to help us by working with our scientists to study whether, indeed, there are people who are born homosexual. When that is proved, we can review this legislation," the President added.

The law became contentious because, according to proponents, it was aimed at "upholding and protecting Uganda's cultural values against Western culture". Those against the law said it was too harsh and against fundamental human rights.

The law, among others, prescribed tough penalties such as life imprisonment for aggravated homosexuality and same sex marriages, and a minimum of seven years in jail for other related offences.

Members of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer and others (LGBTIQ+) community, some MPs and other human rights activists such as veteran journalist Andrew Mwenda, immediately petitioned the Constitutional Court to quash it.

On August 1, 2014, the law, considered as a Christmas gift to Ugandans at the time of passing it, was annulled for having been passed by Parliament without the required quorum of two thirds of all MPs.

This reverted to already existing provisions in the Penal Code Act that carries a possible seven-year sentence for those caught in the same sex relations.

Petition

Mr George Oundo, the chairperson of the Ex-gay Community in Uganda, on May 27 petitioned the Speaker of Parliament, Ms Rebecca Kadaga, saying the law will help create awareness about the sexual orientation.

"If this Bill is re-tabled, it will help expose the extent of the moral breakdown, especially with the children and the youth. We aim at promoting moral and spiritual values since they are just recruited and not born as gays or lesbians," Mr Oundo said.

He added: "After the Bill was annulled, we were scheduled to meet with the President but this did not happen. We are requesting that we get to meet him and we explain the pain we are going through medically and also the stigma we face from the community."

Ms Kadaga promised to positively respond to their petition.

Fr Lokodo says as government, they are pushing for the reintroduction of the annulled law, adding that MPs are now ready to pass it in big numbers.

"On homosexuality, I am strong, firm and determined. The law (Anti-Homosexuality Bill) is coming back and Members of Parliament are determined to come in big numbers and ensure that the law is put in place," he says.

He also says the Sexual Offences Bill, 2015, before the Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, will address similar issues relating to same-sex relations.

The Bill, which Daily Monitor has seen, seeks to consolidate all laws relating to sexual offenses, combat sexual violence, provide for punishment of sexual offenders, and provide for procedural and evidential requirements during trial of sexual offenses and for other related matters.

"It was read for the first and second time but we found that it missed that particular component (pronouncements on same sex relations). So, it was sent back to the House committee on Legal Affairs for redress," Fr Lokodo says.

However, the LGBTIQ+ community members say the Bill also has an implication on them. They say Clause 16 (unnatural offences) and Clause 17 (attempt to commit unnatural offences) of the Bill are a repetition of sections 145 and 146 of the Penal Code Act, which makes it an offence for an adult to engage in same sex relations.

Ms Clare Byarugaba, one of the LGBTIQ+ activists and petitioners who vigorously pushed for the nullification of AHA in 2014, says they have raised the red flag about the clauses and hopes that they will be removed.

Pr Martin Ssempa, who became famous for campaigning against same-sex relations even before the law was first tabled, says he is not aware that the Bill is targeting the sexual minorities, but that he is ready to support any law that aims at protecting values that Ugandans and Africans stand for.

"Homosexuals are people who are always looking for relevance. These are people who make money out of complaining that they are being persecuted, hunted and targeted. But yes, I am not aware of it [the Bill] targeting them and I am not involved in it. However, if the Anti-Homosexuality law is reintroduced, I will support it," he says.

Mr Frank Mugisha, the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, an umbrella body for the LGBTIQ+ community, says labeling them as opportunists is insensitive.

"There has been so much increase on social exclusions such as people being thrown out of homes. Also, there are some levels of harassment at community levels, especially to our transgender community members. There are some people in our society that are bitter because the law was nullified and, therefore, have taken the law into their own hands. Re-introduction of another law criminalising same sex relations is the biggest threat to our community," he says.

One of the gay Ugandans, who requested not to be named for security reasons, now living in Nairobi, Kenya as a refugee, says much as the law was annulled, he and others were forced to flee the country because of the stigmatisation they faced in their immediate communities.

"I do not wish to return to Uganda anytime soon, especially with a proposal to re-introduce a law criminalising same sex relations. I feel I am not safe even among my own family because of the stigma," he says.

Another activist, who prefers to be called Leticia, says: "I thought about leaving Uganda [when the Bill was passed and signed into law] but then I also needed to offer hope and confidence to our colleagues in the community to see how we could handle the entire situation. We pushed until it was annulled. It is so disheartening to hear that some legislators and Parliament in general still want to re-introduce the same or even a worse Bill."

When the Bill was passed and signed into law in 2014, one of the organisations that were affected most was the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU), a grouping of religious denominations.

These include Uganda Episcopal Conference - representing the Catholic Church, Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, Church of Uganda, Uganda Orthodox Church, Seventh Day Adventist Church and Pentecostal Movement.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) withdrew support to the organisation to a tune of $34.5 million (about Shs130b), forcing the IRCU to lay off some of its staff.

The money had been provided to IRCU as part of USAID's five-year HIV/Aids support programme for Uganda, which saw 70,000 people supported with palliative care, 40,000 people on anti-retroviral medication and 45,000 orphaned or vulnerable children given support.

The IRCU maintains: "The law deals with morality and religious leaders will always condemn sin but cannot discriminate against anyone because when we go to mosques or churches, they never ask who we are but preach against the sins that we commit."

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other human rights organisations have always expressed their concerns at the continuing police attack and blocking of LGBTIQ+ meetings.

However, on November 16, 2017, police organised a workshop for its officers in Kampala Metropolitan area on the rights of sexual minorities, a move seen as police's softening stance against LGBTIQ+ groups.

"What the training is aimed at is to teach our field officers to appreciate that minorities have rights that should be respected," Mr Emilian Kayima, the then police spokesperson, said.

Ms Ciara Nakato, a transgender woman activist, says despite the training of police officers on how to handle them (minority groups), there are still rampant arrests which she says sometimes end badly.

Mr Adrian Jjuuko, a human rights lawyer and the executive director of Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, an NGO, says: "Sexual acts between consenting adults should not be criminalised. Criminalisation of these acts contravenes established international and regional human rights standards, as well as the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda in that it unfairly limits the fundamental rights of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and others."

Stigmatisation

"Criminalisation of same-sex conduct has the effect of driving LGBTIQ+ persons to the margins of society, denying them access to opportunities and services and rendering them susceptible to abuse and discrimination from the majority groups in society. Accused persons are made to undergo the humiliating experience of arrest and examination, even though not a single charge of consensual same sex conduct has ever been successfully prosecuted," he adds.

However, Col Shaban Bantariza, the deputy government spokesperson, says: "Different people in different parts of the world define rights differently. We all define those using different parameters, but there are those who think we should all be going by their parameters. Uganda is a sovereign nation."

Col Bantariza adds that the laws are always revisited depending on the need and that there is no cause for alarm.

Provisions under Sexual Offences Bill, 2015

Clause 16. Unnatural Offences.

Any person who-

(a) has carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature;

(b) has carnal knowledge of an animal; or

(c) Permits a male or female person to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature, commits an offence and is liable to imprisonment for life.

Clause 17. Attempt to commit unnatural offences.

Any person who attempts to commit any of the offences specified in Section 16 above commits a felony and is liable to imprisonment for seven years.

Background

In 1950, Uganda got its first modern law criminalising same sex relations under Section 145 of the Penal Code Act cap 120. The section outlawed any unnatural offences which were described to be any sexual acts against the order of nature. The sentence, once convicted, was of up to life imprisonment.

However, this section has faced serious enforcement challenges owing to the regressive, discriminative and intrusive nature of the law.

Source: Chapter Four Uganda

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