The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

Uganda is taking homophobia to a new level.

“Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.” So begins the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, establishing a visionary framework that promotes equality for all members of humanity. However, the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2023 that was recently signed by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni constitutes a significant reversal.

Although same-sex relationships were already illegal in Uganda, this new law introduces even harsher penalties for homosexuality and engaging in same-sex relations. Supported by an overwhelming 341 out of 389 members of Parliament, and initially proposed in 2009 as the “Kill the Gays” law, included a life sentence for “aggravated homosexuality.” A death sentence was initially proposed but rejected in 2014 by the country’s Constitutional Court on procedural grounds. The offense of “aggravated homosexuality” now carries the death penalty, covering actions such as transmitting HIV through same-sex relations, rape, statutory rape, and repeated offenses.

Uganda’s Parliamentary Committee recognized the need for revised legislation. Existing provisions only require proof of “carnal knowledge” to establish the offense of homosexuality. This narrow definition has created a legal loophole, allowing oral sex between same-sex individuals to evade prosecution. The acceptance of such conduct undermines the intent of the anti-homosexuality provision.

The country’s constitution acknowledges and safeguards the rights enjoyed by all individuals within the country. However, concerns persist over specific provisions of the legislation that may infringe upon constitutional rights, including the right to privacy, protection from inhumane treatment, and the right to be free from discrimination. Some provisions also exceed the limitations outlined in the constitution or violate the principle of legality. Courts have found that constitutionally protected rights apply to all Ugandans, regardless of sexuality.

The law also discriminates against individuals with disabilities, with offenses falling under the brackets of “aggravated homosexuality” if the “victim” has a disability, denying persons with disabilities the ability to consent. Moreover, the legislation imposes severe consequences for those advocating for LGBT+ rights, including imprisonment of up to 20 years for the “promotion of homosexuality.”

Prescribing the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” due to HIV status is another alarming aspect of the legislation. By 2021, 89% of people with HIV in Uganda knew their status, and over 92% received treatment. The legislation may hamper Uganda’s fight against HIV by deterring people from seeking essential health services. Even the Uganda Medical Association even concluded that homosexuality is not a disease and that every society has a sizable gay population.

Uganda’s anti-gay law is at odds not only with international standards but also with Uganda’s constitutional promises of privacy, dignity, and non-discrimination. Despite receiving condemnation from the international community, Uganda’s decision represents a grave setback in human rights promotion and protection, posing a profound question for doubters: Can love truly be policed?

Tanya Verma (she/her) is a third year student at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University.

Sana Soneja is a third year student at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University at Lucknow, India.