Uganda: Constitutional Court upheld anti-gay law

Activists had challenged the law in courts, but judges refused to overturn it in their decision, saying it was legally passed by parliament and does not violate the constitution.

Ugandan people marching against LGBT discrimination.
Ugandan marching against LGBT discrimination. Photo courtesy: Alisdare Hickson.

The Constitutional Court of Uganda has upheld the anti-gay law that allows for the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.”

President Yoweri Museveni signed the law last May. The law has the support of many in the East African country but is widely condemned by rights activists and others abroad.

Activists had challenged the law in courts, but judges refused to overturn it in their decision, saying it was legally passed by parliament and does not violate the constitution.

“We decline to nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2023 in its entirety; nor would we grant a permanent injunction against its enforcement,” said Supreme Court Vice President Richard Buteera.

The court, however, ruled that members of the gay community should not be discriminated against when seeking medical attention.

“They should be accepted medically and culturally,” Buteera said.

The petitioners, led by lawyer Nicholas Opiyo, had presented 14 arguments for its dismissal.

The law defines “aggravated homosexuality” as cases of homosexual relations involving a minor and other categories of vulnerable persons, or when the perpetrator is infected with HIV. A suspect convicted of “attempted aggravated homosexuality” can be imprisoned for up to 14 years, and the offense of “attempted homosexuality” is punishable by up to 10 years.

Homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda under a colonial-era law that criminalized sexual activity “against the order of nature.” The penalty for that offense is life imprisonment.

The United Nations expressed deep concern when the new law was passed, with the UN Office of Human Rights calling it “a recipe for systematic violations of the rights” of LGBTQ+ people and others.

U.S. President Joe Biden called the law “a tragic violation of universal human rights, one that is unworthy of the Ugandan people and jeopardizes prospects for crucial economic growth for the entire country.”

The World Bank suspended new loans to Uganda, saying additional measures were needed to ensure that projects aligned with the bank’s environmental and social standards.

Homosexuality is criminalized in more than 30 of Africa’s 54 countries. Some Africans see it as imported behavior from abroad rather than a sexual orientation.

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