Our Voices

Uganda: anti-LGBTQ+ Law Should be Repealed

Today, Uganda’s Constitutional Court announced its verdict on a legal challenge against the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA), which was signed into law by President Museveni in May 2023. The AHA is one of the world’s harshest anti-LGBTQ+ laws. Rather than strike it down, the Court unanimously ruled that only certain provisions are nullified while the law itself – and its most dangerous provisions – remain in place. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights strongly condemns the Court’s verdict, which only serves to continue to endanger the lives and rights of the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda. We urgently call on the Ugandan government to repeal this abhorrent and discriminatory law in its entirety.

The passage of the AHA in 2023 reignited hostility towards the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda that was initially triggered by an earlier, and subsequently annulled, iteration of the law from 2014. Since the most recent version of the AHA came into effect last year, rights groups have documented an alarming increase in human rights abuses against actual and perceived LGBTQ+ persons by State and private actors, including harassment, forced evictions, and physical, sexual, and psychological violence.

The AHA has been widely criticized by the international community, including scientific researchers and health professionals. The World Bank announced it would stop new financing to Uganda over the discriminatory nature of the law, while the US government imposed visa bans and sanctions on officials it deemed responsible for “serious human rights abuses” and “undermining the democratic process in Uganda.” Just last month, lawmakers accused of corruption attempted to divert attention away from the substance of the serious allegations brought against them by sinisterly manipulating anti-LGBTQ+ public sentiment, falsely claiming LGBTQ+ people were behind the corruption allegations and that the public should not believe them.

Amidst the unprecedented escalation of homophobic and transphobic attacks, several LGBTQ+ activists and allies – including prominent LGBTQ+ advocate Frank Mugisha, recipient of the 2011 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award – filed a series of legal challenges against the AHA for blatantly violating Uganda’s constitution and international human rights obligations. The Constitutional Court heard arguments on the merits of the case in December 2023.

The Court’s ruling today seriously endangers the lives and rights of LGBTQ+ people in Uganda. The Constitutional Court only nullified four provisions, such as a clause that would criminalize landlords for renting homes to LGBTQ+ people, but otherwise upheld the AHA as constitutional. Following today’s ruling, the AHA continues to criminalize the “promotion of homosexuality,” which includes advocating for or supporting the rights of LGBTQ+ people, with a 20-year prison sentence. It also still permits the death penalty for the crime of “aggravated homosexuality.”

The Court’s judgment is part of a broader crackdown on civic space in Uganda, where there have been increasing restrictions on civil society’s ability to exercise fundamental freedoms – with many LGBTQ+ people and associations as the target. Less than a month ago, a Ugandan appeals court upheld a decision to deregister and shutdown Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), the leading LGBTQ+ coalition in the country of which Frank Mugisha is the Executive Director. The Court’s verdict from today is also a devastating blow not only to the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda, but to LGBTQ+ individuals and communities across the continent, as it further emboldens the spreading of copycat bills. Ghana’s parliament recently passed a similar law, while countries such as Kenya and Tanzania could quickly follow, threatening the rights and lives of LGBTQ+ persons across Africa.

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights is deeply concerned about the Constitutional Court’s verdict and its impact on all Ugandans who have a right to live freely in their country. As we continue to support the vital work of those fighting for a just and equal Uganda, we urge the Ugandan government to respect the universal human rights of all people and to repeal the AHA in its entirety.