Uganda faces calls to reject 'appalling' anti-LGBTQ bill

Thursday March 23 2023
LGBTQ refugees protest at the UNHCR office in Nairobi

LGBTQ refugees protest at the UNHCR office in Nairobi in May 2019 to demand protection. Uganda is facing an international backlash after legislators passed a bill on March 21, 2023 criminalising same-sex activity. PHOTO | YASUYOSHI CHIBA | AFP



The United Nations and the United States led calls Wednesday for Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni to reject what has been labelled an "appalling" anti-gay bill.

Ugandan lawmakers approved the Anti-Homosexuality Act late on Tuesday after a chaotic near seven-hour session, ordering harsh penalties for anyone who engages in same-sex activity.

Homosexuality was already illegal in the conservative East African nation and it was not immediately clear what new penalties had been agreed, with reports some offenders could face life in prison or even the death penalty.

Read: Legal hurdles same-sex people in Africa face

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk urged Museveni not to promulgate the bill into law. 


"The passing of this discriminatory bill — probably among the worst of its kind in the world — is a deeply troubling development," he said in a statement.

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni who has been urged to reject a tough anti-gay bill passed by parliament. PHOTO | BADRU KATUMBA | AFP

Human rights

"If signed into law by the president, it will render lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Uganda criminals simply for existing, for being who they are. It could provide carte blanche for the systematic violation of nearly all of their human rights and serve to incite people against each other."

Amnesty International also appealed to Museveni to reject the "appalling" legislation, describing it as a "grave assault" on LGBTQ people. 

"This ambiguous, vaguely worded law even criminalises those who 'promote' homosexuality," said Amnesty's east and southern Africa director, Tigere Chagutah.

Read: Ugandan MPs move to ‘save children from LGBTQ’

Lawmakers amended significant portions of the original draft legislation with all but one speaking in favour of the bill.

MP Fox Odoi-Oywelowo, a member of Museveni's National Resistance Movement party who spoke against the bill, told AFP that offenders would face life imprisonment or even the death penalty for "aggravated" offences.

Amnesty said Museveni "must urgently veto this appalling legislation", saying it would "institutionalise discrimination, hatred, and prejudice" against the LGBTQ community.

Anti-LGBTQ protestors in Mombasa, Kenya.

Anti-LGBTQ protestors in Mombasa, Kenya. Gay sex is allowed or has been decriminalised in Angola, Botswana, Cape Verde, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mali, Rwanda, and the Seychelles. PHOTO | FILE | NMG

Homophobic language

The discussion about the bill in parliament has been laced with homophobic language and Museveni himself last week referred to gay people as "deviants".

Nevertheless, the 78-year-old veteran leader has consistently signalled he does not view the issue as a priority, and would prefer to maintain good relations with Western donors and investors.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken joined calls for the government to reconsider the legislation, saying on Twitter it would "undermine fundamental human rights of all Ugandans and could reverse gains in the fight against HIV/Aids".

‘Deeply disappointed’

Britain's Africa minister Andrew Mitchell said he was "deeply disappointed" with the passage of the bill while Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's special envoy on LGBTQ rights, Nicholas Herbert, warned it risked increasing "discrimination and persecution of people across Uganda".

"While many countries, including a number on the African continent, are moving towards decriminalisation this is a deeply troubling step in the opposite direction," Herbert said on Twitter. 

Gay sex is allowed or has been decriminalised in Angola, Botswana, Cape Verde, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mali, Rwanda, and the Seychelles.

Read: Gabon bans gay sex as global pace of reform falters

Uganda is notorious for its intolerance of homosexuality, and the passage of the bill was welcomed by some.

"We are very happy as citizens of Uganda. Culturally we do not... accept homosexuality, lesbianism, LGBTQ. We cannot," said 54-year-old Ugandan Abdu Mukasa.

Homosexuality was criminalised in Uganda under colonial-era laws but since independence from Britain in 1962, there has never been a conviction for consensual same-sex activity.

In 2014, Ugandan lawmakers passed a bill that called for life imprisonment for people caught having gay sex.

International condemnation

A court later struck down the law on a technicality, but it had already sparked international condemnation, with some Western nations freezing or redirecting millions of dollars of government aid in response.

Last week, police said they had arrested six men for "practising homosexuality" in the southern lakeside town of Jinja.

Another six men were arrested on the same charge on Sunday, according to police.