Uganda, once known as the one of the worst places in the world for LGBTQ people, has now announced that homosexuality is no longer a crime. The standing anti-gay law was deemed illegal by a Ugandan court, which invalidated the law on Friday. The court, in its ruling, noted that the now illegal anti-homosexuality bill had been approved despite lacking the necessary review of members in the deliberative assembly. Five judges of the Constitutional Court in Uganda found that the speaker illegally allowed the vote to turn the bill into a law on December 20. It was reported that at least three objections, including one from the Ugandan prime minister, were ignored in the eventual passing of the law that has caused many gay Ugandans to flee and seek asylum.
According to the anti-homosexuality bill, anyone convicted under the law could face time in prison up to a life sentence. Gay or oral sex, aggravated homosexuality, sex with a minor, same-sex marriage and sex with HIV+ people warranted a lifetime in prison. People could face seven years in jail for attempting homosexuality, while a $40,700 fine or five to seven years in jail was the sentence for those attempting to promote homosexuality. Business or NGOs involved in promoting homosexuality were not spared either. Jail or cancelled registrations waited for those involved with homosexuality in Uganda. The sentence did carry a sense of protection for children and could be seen by some as a protective measure against the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Journalists, human rights activists, academics and members of Parliament from both ruling and opposing parties in Uganda were a part of the ten-member group that challenged the law. Nicholas Opiyo, a lawyer and one of the petitioners, had caustic remarks about the decision. Although the move made him happy, the critical lawyer noted that there was still opportunity to debate the law on other grounds. Opiyo ideally expected other issues of the law to be dealt with before the anti-gay law was deemed illegal in Uganda on Friday.
Opiyo’s point is valid and could be a loophole which anti-gay activists will exploit when they decide to challenge the decision made on Friday. The Ugandan law of the colonial era still considers “sexual acts against the natural order” a crime and will allow Uganda to arrest gay people and sexual offenders. While the existing law has been deemed illegal, a new anti-gay law in Uganda may be introduced, according to Opiyo. Meanwhile, state lawyer Kosiya Kasibayo confirmed that no decision on the repealing of this law in the Ugandan Supreme court had been made.
Pro-gay activists were visibly happy and ecstatic as the judges ruled the law null and void in a courtroom filled with Ugandans who both supported and opposed the measure. Frank Mugisha, a leader for gay Ugandans, feared possible recrimination, but welcomed the move that could repair Uganda’s relationship with its gay people. Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi, the Ugandan lawyer for pro-gay activists, said that the reversal of the law upheld constitutionalism and the rule of law. The law, first enacted in February, was challenged on the grounds that it was passed illegally without deliberation by activists and lawyers alike. The law, they claimed, violated fundamental rights in the Ugandan constitution.
Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda who passed the law, said it barred pro-gay Western groups from promoting homosexuality among children in the African diaspora. Many Western countries, including the U.S., denied Uganda international aid since the law was passed by the president. With this move, Uganda is taking baby steps in guiding Africa to understand homosexuality, a topic still considered taboo and punishable by death in many parts of the continent. With the anti-gay law now deemed illegal in Uganda, there may be political benefits too, as a delegation will visit President Barack Obama later next week.
By Rathan Paul Harshavardan