The Sexual Offences Bill, which seeks to amend the existing legal framework on sexual offences (especially the Penal Code Act Cap 120), contains several provisions that would worsen the situation of the LGBTQ+ community and people living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda. Despite the stated object of the Bill purportedly being “the effectual prevention of sexual violence” and “to enhance punishment for sexual offenders,” it contains provisions that would sustain the worrying trend of violence against LGBTQ+ people in Uganda and further institutionalize discrimination and prejudice.
Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) has raised concerns over Clause 11(I) of the Bill which further criminalizes same-sex sexual acts, fostering transphobia and homophobia and paving the way for increased violation of the rights of LGBTQ+ people.
While the Bill contains some positive provisions including for the protection of victims of sexual offenses during trials and restricting the use of character evidence or evidence of victims’ previous sexual history during trial, it fails to protect all Ugandans. The Bill would grant Ugandan courts extraterritorial jurisdiction over LGBTQ+ individuals who engage in consensual sex outside the country further violating the privacy rights of Ugandans traveling and living abroad. In addition, the Sexual Offences Bill extends criminal responsibility to people who fail to report sexual offences, establishes harsher punishments for persons living with HIV/AIDS, and prescribes the death penalty for certain offences.
President Museveni now has an opportunity to move the country towards being a more inclusive and safer place for all Ugandans by rejecting the Bill. Since 2009 when the “Kill the Gays” bill was introduced in parliament and subsequently passed as the Anti-Homosexuality Act in 2014, attacks on LGBTQ+ individuals in Uganda have increased. In 2019, following a minister’s proposed reintroduction of the death penalty for homosexuality, SMUG reported an uptrend in attacks on the LGBTQ+ community mostly by state agents. More recently, the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) reported that about 75 percent of human rights violations documented by the organization in 2020 were committed against LGBTQ+ individuals in Uganda. The trend of retrogression with regard to protections for the LGBTQ+ community in the country is incompatible with the universally protected rights enshrined in the Ugandan Constitution and supported by decisions of the Constitutional and High Courts in Uganda.
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights joins the Ugandan LGBTQ+ community to call on:
- President Museveni to reject the Bill because it further criminalizes sexual and gender minorities as sexual offenders.
- The Ugandan Parliament to expunge the concerning sections of the Sexual Offences Bill and further ensure the protection of ALL victims of sexual violence in Uganda, and repeal the discriminatory colonial-era laws that already criminalize consensual sexual relations.
- The Uganda Law Reform Commission to play a more technical role in advising Parliament on harmful laws that jeopardize other state-driven efforts such as the HIV prevention and control efforts by the Ministry of Health by driving sexual and gender minorities underground because they are illegal.
- The Uganda Equal Opportunities Commission to pursue the constitutionality of sections of the Sexual Offenses Bill that impinge on the equality of ALL Ugandans as stipulated by the Equal Opportunities Commission Act.