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Ugandans could face life imprisonment for same-sex conduct under new law

A group of people celebrate after Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni signed a law imposing harsh penalties for homosexuality in Kampala, 24 February 2014.
A group of people celebrate after Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni signed a law imposing harsh penalties for homosexuality in Kampala, 24 February 2014.

REUTERS/Edward Echwalu

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's signing of the Anti-Homosexuality bill into law is a deeply worrying infringement on the human rights of all Ugandans, Human Rights Watch said today. The law, signed by Museveni in Kampala on February 24, 2014, increases penalties for some forms of consensual same-sex conduct between adults; curtails constitutionally protected rights to privacy, family life, and equality; and violates internationally protected rights to freedom of association and expression.

“President Museveni has dealt a dramatic blow to freedom of expression and association in Uganda by signing the Anti-Homosexuality bill,” said Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Attacking basic rights and criminalizing the expression of divergent views doesn't bode well for anyone. This is yet another troubling sign of disregard for fundamental human rights in Uganda.”

Under the new law, the penalty for same-sex conduct is now life imprisonment. The “attempt to commit homosexuality” incurs a penalty of seven years as does “aiding and abetting” homosexuality. A person who “keeps a house, room, set of rooms, or place of any kind for purposes of homosexuality” also faces seven years' imprisonment. Because the law also criminalizes the “promotion” of homosexuality, there are far-reaching implications beyond the increase in punishments for same-sex sexual conduct, Human Rights Watch said. A person could go to prison simply for expressing a peaceful opinion. Local and international nongovernmental organizations doing advocacy work on human rights issues could now be at risk of criminal sentencing of up to seven years. Public health promotion and prevention efforts targeting “at risk” groups might have to be curtailed, and health educators and healthcare providers could also face criminal sanction under the same provision.

Museveni's government, over his 28 years in office, has increasingly suppressed freedom of assembly, expression, and association and threatened civil society groups working on a range of issues, including corruption, land, oil, and good governance.

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What other IFEX members are saying
  • Uganda’s new anti-LGBTI law a huge step backwards

    Uganda’s law targeting LGBTI people is broadly similar to a law that Nigeria’s president signed in January 2014 banning same-sex marriage and public displays of same-sex affection. Homosexuality is illegal in 38 African countries, and there are signs that anti-gay sentiment is rising.

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