Last week, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was reintroduced to Uganda’s parliament. First drafted in 2009, the proposed legislation quickly gained infamy for its inhumane and draconian provisions. In addition to mandating the death penalty for those found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality,” it threatens jail sentences for those who “promote” homosexuality or fail to report persons suspected to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).
These provisions have sparked international outrage over the persecution of LGBT individuals in Uganda—and rightly so. But the outcry overlooks the impact the bill would have on all Ugandans irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The bill makes it possible to accuse anyone of homosexuality. Under the bill’s definitions, a person who “touches another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality” could be imprisoned for life. It’s not clear how anyone could prove such intentions, but a simple handshake on the street could become the pretext for an accusation and a life sentence. This constitutes a violation of the most basic freedom of association.
The bill would allow for a McCarthy-esque witch hunt. For failing to report within 24 hours any offence under the bill, any Ugandan could receive a prison sentence of up to three years. The incentive, therefore, is to accuse others before being accused yourself. Keep in mind, under the bill’s broad, sweeping clauses an offence could be as innocuous as an accidental touch, using a computer to access sexual health information or renting an apartment to someone who might be LGBT. The requirement to report is especially problematic for doctors, lawyers, counselors and anyone whose profession depends on confidentiality.
The bill will jeopardize Uganda’s gains against the HIV and AIDS epidemic. LGBT people in Uganda already face enormous hurdles in access to health care. Many service providers discriminate against them, refuse to treat them, or simply lack basic information on how to provide care. Standard-setting international organizations including the World Health Organization, the UN Development Program and UNAIDS have argued that increased stigma and fear of criminalization further prevents people from accessing treatment and the information they need to engage in safer sex practices. In addition to violating human rights, the bill therefore constitutes a threat to public health. If people are afraid to be tested or receive treatment for HIV, and don’t have access to protection, prevention efforts can’t succeed.
The bill will contribute to the erosion of political and civil rights in Uganda. Uganda’s constitution guarantees such fundamental human rights as the right to privacy, respect for human dignity and protection from inhuman treatment, protection of personal liberty, equality and freedom from discrimination, among others. The anti-homosexuality bill clearly violates all of these principles. And when you look at other pieces of legislation pending in Uganda’s parliament, a trend emerges. A proposed Public Order Management bill would require anyone holding a meeting of three or more people in public to discuss any “principles, policy, actions or failure of any government, political party or political organization” to seek police permission. Another bill soon to be reviewed, the HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Bill, calls for mandatory HIV testing of pregnant women, drug users and sex workers and forced disclosure of HIV status. And for more evidence of threats to Ugandans’ freedoms, witness the brutal crackdown on demonstrations protesting Uganda’s deteriorating economic situation and government corruption scandals. In this light, the anti-homosexuality bill is part of a much larger trend.
Gitta Zomorodi is an AJWS Program Officer for Africa.