Uganda Criminalises the LGBT Community

On Tuesday 21st March, the Ugandan Parliament unanimously passed a law that officially criminalises its citizens from identifying as LGBT. In turn, this effectively criminalises the very existence of the entire LGBT community in Uganda. According to the organisation Human Rights Watch, while a number of African countries already impose strict laws against the LGBT community, Uganda is the first African country to completely ban even identifying as LGBT. This means that anybody who is a known member of the community will automatically face severe prosecution and subsequent punishment.

Supporters of this new law have defended their stance, claiming that the law will allow the Ugandan Government and authorities to stop the spread of wider, Western-backed LGBT propaganda in a country that strongly defends its sense of traditional values, social conservatism and religious society. Alongside the mere self-identification of being LGBT, the new law also bans the spreading of LGBT propaganda, the engagement in homosexual sex acts and “conspiring” to commit homosexual acts. To make matters even more controversial, family members, friends and members of the local community are even expected to report anybody that they suspect of being LGBT to the authorities.

Regarding the punishments themselves for breaking the new anti-LGBT laws, some examples are as follows – gay sex can lead to a lifetime sentence in prison, while “aggravated homosexuality” can be punishable by death. According to the new laws, “aggravated homosexuality” is defined as sexual acts with anybody under the age of 18 and engaging in intercourse while HIV positive. Ugandan politician David Bahati, who had participated in a government debate on the bill, stated the following:

Our Creator, God, is happy [about] what is happening…I support the bill to protect the future of our children…This is about the sovereignty of our nation. Nobody should blackmail us, nobody should intimidate us.

The legislation itself will be signed into law by President of Uganda Yoweri Museveni, who himself is anti-LGBT and had even signed off a similar anti-LGBT law in 2014, before a domestic court struck this motion down on procedural grounds. Western governments have already been attempting to convince Museveni to use his presidential veto powers to strike down the new laws and reinforce LGBT rights in Uganda, but this is very unlikely to become the case. Museveni has already strongly criticised the West for trying to pressure Uganda into following the West’s own so-called “progressive” social and political standards.

The new anti-LGBT law came into being following several weeks of increased persecution against the LGBT community in Uganda. The increased crackdowns followed claims made by conservative politicians and local religious leaders that children were being indoctrinated into the LGBT community in schools. Earlier this month, a secondary school teacher was arrested following accusations that she had been grooming young schoolgirls into “unnatural sex acts”. No further details were made public other than the teacher has been charged with “gross indecency” and remains in custody to await her trial. On Monday 20th March, a police crackdown resulted in the arrest of six people, who were subsequently charged with running a network that had allegedly been “grooming young boys into acts of sodomy.”

Despite the near-universal appeal of the new law in Uganda, there were still many who denounced it as extreme. According to Ugandan LGBT activist Frank Mugisha, “This law is very extreme and draconian…It criminalises being an LGBTQ person, but also they are trying to erase the entire existence of any LGBTQ Ugandan…”

Other pro-LGBT activists in Uganda had voiced their strong concerns that the new law will inevitably result in an increase in violent crime against the LGBT community. There have also been reports of people being extorted for money via blackmail, with some people claiming that if they did not comply and give money to the blackmailers, the victims would be subsequently accused of being gay and reported to the authorities.

As had been expected, the international community – i.e. the West – has been quick to strongly condemn Uganda’s new anti-LGBT laws. Amnesty International’s Director for East & Southern Africa, Tigere Chagutah, called the bill “appalling”, “ambiguous” and “vaguely-worded”:

This deeply repressive legislation will institutionalise discrimination, hatred and prejudice against LGBTI people – including those who are perceived to be LGBTI – and block the legitimate work of civil society, public health professionals and community leaders…

The United States has even come forward with the statement that if the new anti-LGBT laws come into effect, Uganda will be warned with “economic repercussions”. Knowing the current geopolitical climate, these “economic repercussions” will most likely take the form of sanctions against Uganda.

With everything else that is going on in the world today geopolitically – as well as the long-term existence of strict anti-LGBT laws across Africa already – it is unlikely that Uganda will face very much genuine action from the West over these new anti-LGBT laws. Instead, the worst that the country may face in the near future will be some short-term negative press attention, before the whole matter is largely forgotten about and the world turns its attention back to the events ongoing in Eastern Europe, the Middle-East and Far East Asia.

Stefan Brakus

ETN Board Member (Serbia)

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