Uganda court rejects bid to overturn harsh anti-gay law

Uganda's Constitutional Court on Wednesday rejected a bid to scrap a controversial anti-gay law.

Uganda’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday rejected a bid to scrap a controversial anti-gay law that is considered one of the toughest in the world.

“We decline to nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 in its entirety, neither will we grant a permanent injunction against its enforcement,” Justice Richard Buteera, Uganda’s deputy chief justice and head of the court, said in the landmark ruling.

The legislation was adopted in May last year, triggering outrage among the LGBTQ community, rights campaigners, the United Nations and Western powers.

It imposes penalties of up to life in prison for consensual same-sex relations and contains provisions that make “aggravated homosexuality” an offence punishable by death.

The five-judge bench however ruled that sections of the law violated the right to health and infringed on the right to adequate standards of living as enshrined in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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But “the upshot of our judgement is that this petition substantially fails,” Buteera said, reading a summary of the more than 200-page ruling.

‘Public bigotry’

Nicholas Opiyo, the lawyer representing the petitioners, said they disagreed with the ruling, but will study it fully before deciding on the next steps.

“You come to court expecting it to rise above public bigotry and sentiments. To that extent, it is a letdown,” he posted on X.

The petition was brought by two law professors from Makerere University in Kampala, legislators from the ruling party and human rights activists.

They had charged that it violates fundamental rights guaranteed by Uganda’s constitution, including freedom from discrimination and the right to privacy.

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The petitioners also said it contravened Uganda’s commitments under international human rights law, including the United Nations convention against torture.

MP Fox Odoi-Oywelowo, a member of President Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Movement party who spoke out against the law, told AFP that the decision “was expected but the law is a bad one for the country and should have been struck down long ago”.

‘Negative foreign influence’

But Uganda’s parliament speaker Anita Among hailed the ruling.

“This is a big achievement for Uganda,” she told AFP.

“The ruling proves that all arms of government, the parliament, the executive and the judiciary have one common goal of protecting Uganda against negative foreign influence.”

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Museveni’s government has struck a defiant tone, with officials accusing the West of trying to pressure Africa into accepting homosexuality.

The measures have enjoyed broad support in the conservative, predominantly Christian country, where lawmakers have defended them as a necessary bulwark against Western immorality.

In August last year, a 20-year-old man became the first Ugandan to be charged with “aggravated homosexuality” under the contested law.

He was accused of “unlawful sexual intercourse with… (a) male adult aged 41”, an offence punishable by death.

The Ugandan authorities have resisted pressure from rights organisations, the United Nations and foreign governments to repeal the law.

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The United States, which threatened to cut aid and investment to Kampala, imposed visa bans on unnamed officials in December for abusing human rights, including those of the LGBTQ community.

The World Bank announced in August it was suspending new loans to Uganda over the law, which “fundamentally contradicts” the values espoused by the US-based lender.

In December, Ugandan state minister for foreign affairs Henry Okello Oryem accused the West of seeking “to coerce us into accepting same-sex relationships using aid and loans”.

In 2014, international donors had slashed aid to Uganda after Museveni approved a bill that sought to impose life imprisonment for homosexual relations, which was later overturned.

Last month, a Ugandan court dismissed an appeal by a gay rights group seeking government registration, ruling that it aimed to promote “unlawful” activities.

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The Court of Appeal said any registration of the group Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) was against the public interest and national policy.

– By: © Agence France-Presse

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