In 2010, four years before the anti-gay law was debated in Uganda, a weekly tabloid newspaper, the Rolling stone newspaper, published photographs of dozens of homosexuals, calling for people to hang them. From time immemorial, homosexuality among men has been a crime in the East African country, but with the revisitation of the legislation informally known as the Kill the Gays, there could be a spike of homophobia in the country and an increase in human capital flight.
In a statement to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Uganda’s Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo, stated that “Homosexuality is not natural to Ugandans, but there has been massive recruitment by gay people in schools, and especially among the youth, where they are promoting the falsehood that people are born like that. Our current penal law is limited. It only criminalises the act. We want it made clear that anyone who is even involved in promotion and recruitment has to be criminalised. Those that do grave acts will be given the death sentence.”
Homophobia encompasses a range of negative attitudes and feelings toward homosexuality or people who are identified or perceived as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. No thanks to hate-filled beliefs and non-inclusive cultures, Africa has become a hotbed for homophobia.
With a bill that imposes a death penalty on homosexuals, under the guise that the legislation would curb a rise in “unnatural” sex in Uganda, the government has enforced its right to accept or refuse an idea. However, this infringing on homosexuals right to freedom of expression and their right to life.
Freedom from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In Article 2, the UDHR which provides for non-discrimination states that, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
When it comes to sexual orientation, Article 2 under the provisions of “other status” in the ICCPR states that, “Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
Uganda acceded to the ICCPR on June 21, 1995, without making any reservations. The Ugandan government is under the obligation to respect and protect the internationally recognized human rights contained therein. However, the Ugandan government has often responded to criticisms by arguing that they are insensitive to the Ugandan context, and a form of western imperialism.
“We are ready. We don’t like blackmailing. Much as we know that this is going to irritate our supporters in budget and governance, we can’t just bend our heads and bow before people who want to impose a culture which is foreign to us,” said the Ethics and Integrity Minister.
The Constitution of Uganda provides for the promotion of culture. Objective XXIV of the constitution states that cultural and customary values that are consistent with the fundamental human rights and freedoms, human dignity and democracy and with the constitution of Uganda may be developed and incorporated in all aspects of Ugandan life.
Uganda, as with other African nations, has different beliefs and traditions that are deeply rooted in their cultural and religious values. However, culture is dynamic and the country has chosen to not adapt when it comes to homosexuality and has degraded to the highest form of punishment to stifle their freedom of expression when other African countries are embracing diverse sexual orientation. Botswana, Angola, Mozambique and Seychelles have all decriminalised same-sex relations and scrapped anti-homosexuality laws.
Sexual orientation is an integral aspect of being human and should never lead to discrimination or abuse. Under the Penal Code, the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014 which was passed on December 17, 2013 states “carnal knowledge against the order of nature between two males carries a potential penalty of life imprisonment”. Same-sex couples were also sentenced to life imprisonment for mere touching and this led to gay rights activists reacting angrily and publicly protesting.
This law was annulled on a technicality in 2014 by Uganda’s Constitutional Court because not enough lawmakers were present to vote. Sadly, with the new legislation, the freedom of association of these gay activists are threatened and their lives are now at stake. In 2018, activists trying to open Uganda’s first centre for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people were told that their plans for a safe space are illegal.
According to a report by Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), an alliance of LGBT+ organisations, the country’s anti-gay law led to a tenfold rise in attacks on LGBTI people in 2014. The report showed an increase in mob violence, homes burned down, blackmail, lost jobs, arrests, evictions, attempted lynching and suicide rates. The human capital flight of homosexual Ugandans increased. At least 25 people were reported to have fled Uganda, seeking asylum in neighbouring Kenya and Rwanda.
Sexual Minorities Uganda said its members were fearful. “When the law was introduced last time, it whipped up homophobic sentiment and hate crimes. Hundreds of LGBT+ people have been forced to leave the country as refugees and more will follow if this law is enacted. It will criminalise us from even advocated for LGBT+ rights, let alone supporting and protecting sexual minorities.”
Homosexuality is not a choice but the decision to accept or reject other peoples identity is a choice. However, condemning them to death should be illegal and considered unlawful by international human rights. organizations.