Civil society unite against Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill

A coalition of civil society groups in Uganda have petitioned members of parliament in Uganda and beyond to protect the country's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people whose rights are threatened by the looming anti-homosexuality law.

A coalition of civil society groups in Uganda have petitioned members of parliament in Uganda and beyond to protect the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people whose rights are threatened by the looming anti-homosexuality law.

The Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law (CSCHRCL) was established to challenge the bill and defend the human rights and the constitutionally enshrined protections of all Uganda. The coalition rapidly expanded to feminist, media, health NGOs as well as LGBTI and sex worker groups all united in their opposition to the bill. It has since won national and international recognition for its advocacy and sexuality and gender identity related matters in Uganda.

The CSCHRCL is specifically targeting Ugandan MPs attending the Inter Parliamentary Union Conference in Kampala.

The coalition’s petition highlights how the Ugandan parliamentarian attained international notoriety, brining it into disrepute when it tabled the so called Anti-Homosexuality Bill, subsequently dubbed the ‘Kill the gays’ bill.

The petition describes this bill proposed “killing some gays, imprisoning others, turning friends, neighbours and family members to spy on one another, and further restricting civil society space and freedoms”.

It goes on to say: “When the Ugandan 8th parliament adjourned in May 2011 without voting on the bill, it was widely believed that the proposed legislation had died. Contrary to all parliamentary precedent, the Bill was reintroduced UNCHANGED to the 9th parliament on 7th February 2012.

“Therefore the Inter-parliamentary Union (IPU) offers a unique opportunity to visiting parliamentarians and Uganda’s own to discuss and reflect on the constitutionality of the proposed legislation itself, as well as on the repercussions for Uganda’s parliamentary democracy, constitutionalism and international standing.”

The coalition aims to alert all visiting parliamentarians that if the anti-homosexuality bill is passed into law, it will be unconstitutional, redundant, procedurally flawed and lack the requisite financial certificates.

CSCHRCL describe the bill as “anathema to human rights, in contravention of Uganda’s international Commitment in the African Charter of Human rights (ACHPR), the International Covenant and the Convention on the Elimination of All Form of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and others – and a manipulation by Western-based right wing Christians”.

They say that even before the bill has been passed into law, it is fuelling hatred and discrimination against people suspected of being LGBTI, and is promoting ignorance among the general population, resulting in attention being diverted away from pressing matters related to the governance of Uganda.

The Coordinator of the CSCHRCL, Geoffrey Ogwaro said: “We have been meeting the various groups attending the Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly and we are telling them all the injustices that are going to be created by this bill. We tell them that the Bill is unconstitutional and seeks to infringe on peoples’ rights.”

He says that the provisions of the bill that CSCHRCL will vehemently oppose are the ones that violate human rights standards, specifically;

  • Clause 2: the definition of homosexuality. The bill includes within its definition “touching with the intent to commit homosexuality”, which would make it very easy for one person to witch hunt another or to bring false accusations
  • Clause 4: attempt to commit homosexuality. Mr Ogwaro says under international human rights law, the only same sex acts that can be punished are rape or those with persons below the age of 18.
  • Clause 5-6: protection, assistance and payment of compensation to victims of homosexuality and confidentiality. CSCHRCL argues there can be no victim if sexual activity is between two consenting same sex adults.
  • Clause 7-8: aiding and abetting homosexuality and conspiracy to engage in homosexuality. Again, this cannot stand as punishment, abetting and conspiracy can only apply where there is no consent, as is in cases of same sex rape.
  • Clause 13: the offence of promoting homosexuality. CSCHRCL argue this constitutes a clear violation of rights to freedoms of speech, expression, association and assembly contained in Article 29 of the Constitution of the Ugandan republic. The coalition argues that the bill stifles expression or dissemination of views, opinions or information, and would affect donors, human rights activists, the media, academics and non-governmental organizations.
  • Clause 14: the offence of failure to report homosexuality. The coalition argues this would require a breach of trust and confidentiality of parents, priests, doctors or lawyers.
  • Clause 15, 16, 17 on jurisdiction, extraterritorial jurisdiction and extradition. CSCHRCL argue these clauses constitute a violation of the right to privacy, equality and non- discrimination.
  • Clause 18: the proposed nullification of inconsistent international treaties. This is against article 287 of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda so undermines the country’s reputation and credibility. Campaigners say this cannot stand because under the International human rights law, the state is obliged not to criminalise sexual activity, between consenting same sex adults.

The CSCHRCL petition calls for the Ugandan parliament to “drop the pernicious Anti-homosexuality bill in its entirety” and also calls on MPs to oppose any re-introduction of such legislation.

It urges them to strengthen existing laws to protect minors against all forms of sexual exploitation and take steps to recognise and legislate against same sex rape.

CSCHRCL also call for the Ugandan parliament through IPU to work towards saving Uganda’s image as leader in the fight against HIV by recognising the criminalisation of same sex adult relationships is having a detrimental impact on that struggle.

They also call for steps to decriminalise consensual adult sexual relationships, in particular section 145 of the penal code. Campaigners are also calling on the Ugandan government to fulfil the commitments it undertook t to investigate human rights violations against LGBTI persons and activists and to bring to book anyone who is responsible for these violations.