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Ugandan parliament to criminalise LGBTQ identification

Uganda has been known for its conservative views on LGBTQ rights, with the country’s government and society being largely intolerant of homosexuality. With the new anti-homosexuality bill passed this week, parliament has imposed the death penalty for some offences.

In a shocking move, Uganda has passed a bill criminalising homosexuality with life imprisonment sentences, further imposing the death penalty for offences termed as ‘aggravated homosexuality’.

The bill, officially known as the ‘Homosexuality Aggravated Penalty Bill,’ was passed by Uganda’s parliament on Monday, March 20th. This has sparked outrage from human rights activists and the international community.

The situation for LGBTQ people in Uganda is dire. Homophobia is widespread, and members of the LGBTQ community are often subjected to violence, harassment, and discrimination. Those accused of same-sex relations are actively sought out and arrested.

On transgender individuals, the government has refused to recognise such identities and prohibited gender-affirming healthcare. This has resulted in many transgender individuals being forced to live in secrecy.

One of the country’s notable organisations that has been leading the charge for LGBTQ rights in Uganda is Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG).

Despite its advocacy for protecting the rights of LGBTQ individuals in Uganda through education and research, however, instances of human rights violations and intimidation are regularly witnessed.

The country’s government has defended the bill, stating that it is necessary to protect its traditional values and prevent the spread of homosexuality.

It has also claimed that the law will not be used purely to target consenting adults engaged in consensual same-sex relationships, but rather to punish individuals engaged in acts of ‘aggravated homosexuality,’ such as child sex abuse.

The passage of this bill comes nine years after Uganda’s previous attempt in 2014, which was quickly struck down by the country’s constitutional court on procedural grounds. The new law is likely to face legal challenges as well, with human rights groups vowing to challenge its constitutionality in court.

International response to the bill

The United Nations through its High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, has expressed real concern, stating that the bill goes against international human rights norms and standards.

‘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,’ he said.

The European Union has called for the law to be repealed, stating that ‘the criminalisation of homosexuality is contrary to international human rights law.’ International organisations Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International too vehemently condemned the bill.

The latter’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, Tigere Chagutah, said: ‘In reality, 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.’

Potentially a major setback for LGBTQ rights in Uganda, this highlights the ongoing discrimination for such communities in large parts of the world.

Additionally, it remains to be seen how Uganda’s relationship with the wider international community will now be impacted by this spiteful vendetta.