South Africa’s Deputy President David Mabuza recently refused to publicly rebuke and speak out against the persecution of LGBTQIA+ people across Africa, specifically in Uganda, when pressed by members of Parliament.
Mabuza hid behind claims that South Africa had to respect the sovereignty of other countries, although he did say he condemned any broad violations.
“South Africa, therefore, respects the sovereignty of the Republic of Uganda, and any other nation. In line with our constitutional provisions, we condemn any form of human rights violations and abuses, especially when perpetrated by any state, including those directed at lesbian, gay and transgender persons, otherwise known as LGBTQ+,” he said.
Ugandan lawmakers are discussing an anti-homosexuality law which could impose the death penalty for homosexuality.
Uganda’s continued failure to recognise and protect the rights accorded to sexual minorities continues to undermine efforts made to ensure their inclusion in society. At the height of discussions to criminalise same-sex relationships in 2014, Uganda’s parliament passed the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014 which criminalised homosexuality, in other words, same-gender and same-sexual acts. Though this act of parliament was annulled by Uganda’s Constitutional Court in the case of Prof. Joe Oloka Onyango and others vs. Attorney General [Constitutional Petition No. 8 of 2014] due to procedural irregularities, whoever would have been found guilty of homosexuality under the act would have been imprisoned for life.
The act further contained provisions which criminalised same-sex marriages and imposed lifetime jail sentences for those involved. The passing of the act alone demonstrated how homophobic Uganda’s parliament was at the time.
Despite the annulment of the act, some legislators within Uganda’s parliament continue to lobby for the tabling of the anti-homosexuality bill to criminalise same-sex and same-gender relationships. Uganda is yet to accept that sexual minorities exist and that same-sex and same-gender relationships exist and are happening.
The LGBTQIA+ community in Uganda lives in fear of criminal prosecution and discrimination, particularly in workplaces that do not have non-discrimination policies. In addition, the community faces impediments to accessing healthcare services, and families often disown loved ones who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community.
In August 2016, the LGBTQIA+ community organised Pride celebrations, at Club Venom in Kampala, meant to crown Mr, Ms and Mx Uganda Pride. However, this activity was blocked by the police, who claimed that a gay wedding was taking place. The police locked the gates of the club, arrested more than 16 people (the majority of whom were LBGTI activists) and assaulted many in a bid to shut down the celebrations. All those arrested were later released without charge.
On 17 May 2019, during the commemoration of the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) organised by Sexual Minorities Uganda and Chapter Four, police disrupted the meeting and ordered the event to be cancelled. Such interference and denial of free speech and expression for the LGBTQIA+ community in Uganda is proof that Uganda is not an inclusive society.
The brutal deaths of LGBTQIA+ activists in Uganda are equally telling. For instance, in 2011, famed human rights defender and LGBTQIA+ activist David Kato was murdered. And of late, Sexual Minorities Uganda has documented the deaths of Semugoma Fahad on 2 August 2019 in Gomba district and Brian Wasswa, a man suspected to be gay, who was hacked to death in October 2019 at his home in Jinja district.
Most LGBTQIA+ activists in Uganda now work clandestinely while others have fled the country for fear of death threats and criminal sanctions.
While Uganda “okays” discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, Section 9 of South Africa’s Constitution expressly prohibits any form of discrimination premised on the grounds of race, gender and sexual orientation. Court decisions such as Minister of Home Affairs and another vs. Fourie and another  ZACC 19, which allowed same-sex marriages and National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality vs. Minister of Justice  ZACC 15 where the court declared the criminalisation of both sodomy and the commission of unnatural sex unconstitutional, are two progressive decisions that have enabled the LGBTQIA+ community in South Africa to express themselves freely without any fear of criminal prosecution or any other forms of discrimination.
Silence and criminalisation of same-sex and same-gender relations will not get us anywhere. The social stigma and discriminative laws, practices and policies in Uganda coupled with homophobia will deny the LGBTQIA+ community access to opportunities, essential healthcare services, equal treatment and dignity.
Above all, it will hinder the country’s ability to realise key national, regional and international targets such as Uganda’s Vision2040, UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets and Agenda 2030 of the Sustainable Development Goals under the theme “Leave no one behind”, particularly Goal 10 on reducing inequality through ensuring equal opportunity by eliminating discriminatory laws, practices and policies.
Private and state actors in Uganda are constitutionally mandated to respect, protect and promote fundamental human rights and to avoid all forms of discrimination. However, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity continues to stifle efforts to make Uganda an inclusive society.
In order to make Uganda an inclusive society, Ugandans should treat the LGBTQIA+ community equally, with dignity and with respect. The Ugandan government should condemn the unlawful arrests and disruption of assemblies convened by the LGBTQIA+ community. Instead of parliament criminalising same-sex and same-gender relationships, parliament and its legislators should be at the forefront of passing laws that emphasise equality and non-discrimination of all forms to ensure that the LGBTQIA+ community enjoy their rights.
This will go a long way to ensure that Uganda is an inclusive society that accords all human beings equal amounts of respect irrespective of their gender, race, religion and sexual orientation. MC
- Paul Wasswa is a lawyer at the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD).