Uganda: Anti-Homosexuality Act's Heavy Toll

Published: May 15, 2014

(Nairobi, May 15, 2014) – Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people in Ugandahave reported a surge in human rights violations since the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act on December 20, 2013, Human Rights Watch andAmnesty International said today.  

In a country where the climate for LGBTI people was already hostile and discriminatory, LGBTI people have faced a notable increase in arbitrary arrests, police abuse and extortion, loss of employment, evictions and homelessness, and scores have fled the country. At least one transgender person has been killed since the bill was signed, in an apparent hate crime. Health providers have cut back on essential services for LGBTI people, who also fear harassment or arrest if they seek health care. The passing of this discriminatory law has not only opened the floodgates for a range of human rights violations against LGBTI people in Uganda, but has also ensured that victims of these violations are denied access to effective remedies. Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), a Kampala-based organization, stated in a recent report that “the full force of the State, particularly the legislative and executive branches of government, is being used to hunt down, expose, demean and suppress Uganda’s LGBTI people.”

“The Anti-Homosexuality Act is creating homelessness and joblessness, restricting life-saving HIV work, and bloating the pockets of corrupt police officers who extort money from victims of arrest,” said Neela Ghoshal, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Repealing this law is imperative to ensure Ugandans can live without fear of violence and harassment.”

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International conducted research in Kampala and other Ugandan towns in April 2014, interviewing 38 individuals directly affected by the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, four lawyers and paralegals, and four organizations that provide health services to LGBTI people. Human Rights Watch also interviewed eight LGBTI Ugandans in Nairobi, Kenya, who had fled Uganda between January and March 2014.

President Yoweri Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law on February 24, 2014, and it came into force on March 10. The law permits sentences of life in prison for some sexual acts between consenting adults. It criminalizes the undefined “promotion” of homosexuality, a provision that threatens human rights advocacy work and prompted a police raid on a joint US government-Makerere University HIV research and intervention program. The law also criminalizes “a person who keeps a house, room, set of rooms, or place of any kind for purposes of homosexuality,” a provision that has been used to justify evicting LGBTI tenants. These new provisions reinforce existing ones in the country’s penal code that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relationships between men.

Since the bill passed in December 2013, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are aware of at least 17 people who have been arrested based on allegations of consensual same-sex conduct with other adults or, in some cases, simply on the suspicion of appearing to be LGBTI.

 

In contrast, between 2007 and 2011, the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, a Ugandan group that tracks such cases and provides legal defense, reported that they were aware of 23 arrests on the basis of same-sex conduct, none of which resulted in prosecutions. The increase in arrests affects not only those detained, but the broader LGBTI population, since many live in fear of arrest and avoid any dealings with the authorities. LGBTI people who are victims of violence or discrimination say they fear reporting such cases to the police, concerned that they themselves could be arrested.

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