Fear and Loathing in Uganda: Proposed Law Abrogates Basic Human Rights

A proposed "anti-homosexuality" law blatantly disregards both international law and Uganda's Constitution, threatening freedom of speech and freedom from violence and discrimination.

Shock, anger, frustration, protests.
Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill, tabled by ruling party MP David Bahati, has
unsurprisingly seen global condemnation over the last few months.

The bill proposes a seven-year jail term
for anyone who "attempts to commit the offence" or who "aids,
abets, counsels or procures another to engage in acts of homosexuality." 
Under the proposed law, “promotion of homosexuality,” including publishing information
or providing funds, premises for activities, or other resources, is also
punishable by a seven-year sentence or a fine of US$50,000. The bill seeks to
apply the death penalty handed down for the crime of “aggravated homosexuality,”
defined as a sexual assault committed against a member of the same sex who is
under 18 or disabled. An HIV test would be forced upon anyone found guilt of
the offense of “homosexuality."

It is the blatant disregard for both the
Uganda Constitution and international law that is most striking in this bill.  Prohibiting “promotion of
homosexuality” undermines the rights to free speech, expression, association
and assembly. Prohibiting “funding and sponsoring of homosexuality,” undermines
Uganda’s public health efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The bill also
introduces the obligation to report a homosexual within 24 hours of knowing someone’s sexual orientation. It even permits Ugandan law enforcers to arrest and
charge a Ugandan citizen or permanent resident who engages in homosexual
activities outside the borders of Uganda.

The bill is nothing short of discriminatory
and stigmatizing, its objectives drawing upon stereotypical notions about
homosexuality and homosexual relations. It aims to prohibit homosexual behavior
and related practices in Uganda which are deemed a “threat to the traditional
family.”  Although the Bill aims “to safeguard the health of Ugandan citizens
from the negative effects of homosexuality and related practices,” it is hard
to believe that the Bill’s drafters actually considered homosexuals as Uganda
citizens. Indeed, if they had, they would consider the inevitability that this
Bill, if passed, would drive homosexuals underground and further away from
HIV prevention programs and essential medical treatment for those affected by AIDS,
including life-prolonging anti-retroviral drugs.

The international community should be
particularly alarmed at the bill’s attempt to outright prohibit the
ratification of any LGBT rights-protecting treaty and most shockingly, nullify previously
ratified treaties if considered “contradictory to the spirit and provisions” of
the bill.

Effectively, if the Committee on Economic, Social and Culture
Rights were to state that the right to the highest attainable standards of
health belonged also to homosexuals, or the Children’s Rights Committee
promotes scientifically-based sex education that does not condemn homosexuality
or if the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination were to state that
lesbian women have a right to found a family and decide the number and spacing
of their children, this bill states Uganda will withdraw its ratification or
file a reservation to the treaty. This is nothing short of Uganda making a
mockery of the international human rights system. The potential application of
the death penalty, a blatant violation of the right to life, is yet another
example of how this bill flouts basic human rights.

The bill has been condemned by a number of
African organisations which promote equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and
transgendered (LGBT) people, including Sexual Minorities Uganda, Inclusive and
Affirming Ministries (IAM) and The Rainbow Project of Namibia, all of which may
become illegal for “promoting homosexuality”
if the Bill is passed. When the bill was condemned
by the US Embassy in Kampala in late October, the Ugandan Ethics Minister James
Nsaba Buturo’s response was to dismiss
the very notion of human rights: "We are really getting tired of this
phrase ‘human rights’. It is being abused. Anything goes, and if you are
challenged? ‘Oh, it’s my right’”.

Yet, draconian anti-homosexuality laws
are not new to Uganda. Homosexuality, or "carnal knowledge against the
order of nature," as it is described under Section 140 of the Uganda Penal
Code, is already illegal and can be punished with imprisonment of up to 14
years. Therefore, if the bill is rejected, homosexuals remain targets under the
law. What these months of debate have revealed is the environment of fear in
which homosexuals in Uganda have to live. According to Amnesty
, the existing law fosters arbitrary arrest and detention by
police of men and women accused of engaging in consensual sex with another
person of the same sex, with documented cases of torture and ill-treatment of
lesbians and homosexual men in detention.

It is sad that in the same year that we have seen a momentous victory
in India
on these issues that we see the makings of an enormous setback for the human rights of all
Ugandans. In the words of the Civil
Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law
, this Bill is an
attempt to “wish away core human rights principles of dignity, equality and
non-discrimination, and all Ugandans will pay a heavy price if this bill is