Great news! A few days ago, Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality law was invalidated and deemed illegal by a Ugandan court, pleasing international and national human rights activists who have tirelessly campaigned for its removal.
Activists are rumoured to have erupted in cheers as the court ruled the law “null and void”, while various supporters of the law, including the prominent Christian cleric, Martin Ssempa prayed out loud and quoted verses of the bible that denounced homosexuality. As human rights activists and their supporters left the courtroom, they were met with huge numbers of anti-gay demonstrators, waving placards with anti-gay slogans, shouting insults and abuse.
So now what for Ugandan sexual minorities and their supporters in and outside of Uganda? Well simply put, their fate remains balanced on the edge of a knife. Current Ugandan law still criminalises homosexuality, which in affect means that those found guilty of disregarding the “order of nature” by partaking in a consensual same-sex relationship will still be arrested and charged – the Anti-Homosexual Bill was merely an extension of existing legislation in Uganda.
This is not the only reason why Ugandan sexual minorities and LGBTI activists should be worried. Ugandan lawmakers and religious leaders are already declaring that the reason why the law was invalidated was down to a “technicality”; and to a certain extent they have a point. The law was nullified not because it breached international human rights law – to which Uganda is a signatory, rather because the law was passed during a parliamentary session that lacked a quorum (the minimum amount of parliamentary members necessary to pass a law legally). In effect, what the court has done here is miss the perfect opportunity to resolve this issue – they should have used this opportunity to point out that the Anti-Homosexual Act is both immoral and unjustifiable; instead they have just postponed the debate until another day. Although it should be noted that those who were arrested or who were being investigated by police on charges under this law have now gained their freedom, which is most certainly something to celebrate.
Nevertheless, just days after the court-ruling, members of Ugandan parliament rumoured to number in excess of one hundred have announced their support of a new Bill that is practically identical to the Anti-Homosexual Act. See below for a recent tweet courtesy of Parliament Watch (@pwatchug), showing some Ugandan MPs united in their fight against homosexuality. The headline of the picture being: ‘Mps are now holding hands and singing “we shall never allow Homosexuality” #AHA2014’
The anti-gay feeling in Uganda is not only reserved for law makers and religious leaders; indeed, according to a recent Pew Poll, 79% of the Ugandan population believe homosexuality to be morally wrong, while The Guardian newspaper reported on April 2, 2014, that 30,000 Ugandans gathered for a celebration at a stadium in Kampala to “give thanks” to the president of Uganda for passing the anti-gay law in February of this year.
Human rights activists now have a lot to do in a very short time frame. Ugandan MPs that support a new Bill have vowed to pass it through parliament within the next three days, although this may be an impossible task given that it would mean having to suspend parliamentary rules – putting the new Bill at risk for another court challenge on procedural grounds.
Nonetheless, we who value human rights and equality have a responsibility to support sexual minorities in Uganda. It all begins with voicing our condemnation of anyone that regards LGBTI people as criminals, even if that person happens to live on a different continent.
Written by Callum Hunter