Written by Donia Agchar
Translated by Talia Gaudé
On the 26th of May 2023, a final legal text qualifying “aggravated” homosexuality as a capital crime, leading to the death penalty for the condemned, was enacted by Ugandan President Yoweri MuseveniParliament of Uganda. (2023). President assents Anti-Homosexuality Act. https://www.parliament.go.ug/news/6737/president-assents-anti-homosexuality-act.
The question of LGBTQI+ rights and the enactment of such legislation in Uganda is part of a continuity of lgbtqiphobic politics in the country: in March of this year, as the Ugandan parliament was working on a new draft bill aiming to criminalise LGBTQI+ people and relations, worries rose in the international community. Clara Delhaye’s article “The growing endangerment of LGBTQI+ in Uganda” retraces this continuity and allows a better understanding of the context and the political and ideological positions that led to the enactment of such a billDelhaye, C. (13 mai 2023). La mise en danger croissante des personnes LGBTI+ en Ouganda. Institut du Genre en Géopolitique. https://igg-geo.org/?p=12508. Its enactment marks a real end and collapse of LGBTQI+ rights in the country. This legislation, firmly adopted by the Ugandan authorities, raises vivid preoccupations regarding its consequences, national as much as regional.
What are the consequences of the enactment of the anti-LGBTQI+ law for Uganda, and what is its geopolitical impact on the country and the region?
By compiling these different elements, this article aims to offer a deeper understanding of the consequences of the anti-LGBTQI+ law in Uganda, while also examining the geopolitical challenges that result from it. By casting a light on these key aspects, the goal is to contribute to a larger reflection on the rights of LGBTQI+ people and the challenges linked to the promotion of equality and social justice.
Understanding the “anti-homosexuality law 2023” in Uganda: the main provisions and implications of this new legislation
The enactment of the 26th of May 2023 law is none other than the result of years of anti-LGBTQI+ politics in Uganda. While former texts condemned all forms of homosexuality, a heritage of older British colonial laws, this new legislation introduces specific crimes linked to homosexuality, including vague terms, such as the “promotion of homosexuality” and “aggravated homosexuality”, both punishable by death.
However, when we examine the main provisions of this law, it becomes clear that the implications go beyond the simple criminalization of homosexuality.
One of the most worrying provisions is the introduction of the notion of “attempted homosexual behaviour”, punishable by ten years’ imprisonment: the vague formulation of this term could evoke an incomprehension regarding its interpretation and its application. How can we prove an “attempt of homosexual behaviour”? What is the precise definition of this concept? These ambiguities open the door to even stronger repression, leaving space for an arbitrary and discriminatory interpretation of the law.
Another major point of interest resides in the notion of the “promotion of homosexuality” introduced by this law. This provision raises crucial issues regarding LGBTQI+ organisations and defenders of LGBTQI+ rights on the political scene and in public space. By criminalising the “promotion of homosexuality”, the law disrupts militantism, awareness of LGBTQI+ questions and visibility of this community, because it forbids the actions in support of LGBTIQ+ people that these NGOs were meant to provideThe Guardian. (2023, March 14). LGBTQ crackdowns in Uganda as environment becomes hostile. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2023/mar/14/lgbtq-crackdowns-uganda-environment-hostile. So, fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and association are directly called into question, resulting in a drastic limitation of efforts aiming to promote equality and the rights of LGBTQI+ people in the country.
The “anti-homosexuality law 2023” in Uganda marks a worrying turn in the repression of LGBTQI+ rights. Not only does it further criminalise homosexual acts, but it also extends its effects to acts of support, of advocating and militantism in favour of LGBTQI+ rights. By understanding the main provisions of this law and identifying its implications, it is possible to seize the scale of the threat it represents for the LGBTQI+ community in Uganda and for the defenders of human rights in the country.
Overview of the responses and international condemnations
The enactment of the anti-LGBTQI+ law in Uganda sparked vivid reactions from the international community. The main reason is the flagrant violation of human rights against LGBTQI+ people.
It is important to note that the Ugandan government, by enacting this law, is breaking several commitments in matters of international agreements and human rights, though guaranteed by the country’s Constitutions, thus exposing themselves to diplomatic repercussions. Among these international commitments, the resolution adopted in 2014 by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights – condemning attacks perpetrated against people because of their sexual orientation or their gender identityCommission Africaine des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples. (2019). Résolution sur la protection contre la violence et d’autres violations des droits de l’homme basées sur l’orientation … Continue reading – but also the 2023 resolution of the European Parliament calling for President Museveni not to approve the anti-homosexuality lawParlement européen. (2023). Proposition de résolution sur la situation des droits de l’homme en Ouganda. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/B-9-2023-0222_FR.html. Despite these clear pleas, the President approved this law, thus reinforcing the international critics against the Ugandan government.
The governments and international leaders have expressed their deep concern and condemned this discriminatory law. The American President Joe Biden qualified this legislation as a “tragic violation of universal human rightsWhite House. (2023, May 29). Statement from President Joe Biden on the Enactment of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act. … Continue reading”, going as far as to convening the National Security Council to evaluate the repercussions on the engagement of the United States of America in Uganda. France has expressed a “great deal of concern” and reminded the Ugandan government that this law constitutes a blatant violation of human rights and of the international obligations of the countryMinistère de l’Europe et des Affaires étrangères. (30 mai 2023). Droits LGBT+ : Loi anti-homosexualité en Ouganda – La France exprime ses plus vives inquiétudes (30.05.23). … Continue reading.
The international organisations of human rights protection also took a stance on this discriminatory law. The UN, via its Secretary-General António Guterres, declared itself “deeply concernedNations Unies. (30 mai 2023). Déclaration du Secrétaire général sur l’adoption de la loi anti-homosexualité en Ouganda [Communiqué de presse] https://press.un.org/fr/2023/sgsm21816.doc.htm” by the enactment of this law, and called Uganda to respect the principle of non-discrimination and the right to private life, independently from sexual orientation and gender identity. Amnesty International qualified the voting of this law as sadly symbolic in the history of LGBTQI+ people’s rights, denouncing its negative impact on the community in UgandaAmnesty International. (2023, May). President’s Museveni’s approval of anti-LGBTI bill is an assault on human rights. … Continue reading.
The denouncement of the new anti-LGBTQI+ law in Uganda seems to demonstrate a strong international consensus responding to the commitments of the United Nations. LGBTQI+ human rights are part of the fundamental judicial obligations of the States in the “Born free and equal” chart of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human RightsNé libres et égaux : Standards pour la protection des droits des personnes LGBTI. (2012). Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). … Continue reading. As Uganda has been a member of the UN ever since its independence in 1962United Nations in Uganda. The UN in Uganda. https://uganda.un.org/en/about/about-the-un, the reactions of governments, international leaders, and organisations for the protection of human rights are sending a clear message, saying that the discrimination and the violation of LGBTQI+ rights are incompatible with the international commitments that Member States of the UN have to hold.
However, beyond the simple condemnation, the governments and the international community are called to take concrete measures to act in consequence of these discriminations. The international sanctions answering to the adoption of anti-LGBTQI+ are sending a strong message, that the international community will not be tolerating the violations of human rights and are highlighting the importance of respecting the principles of non-discrimination, equality and freedom of sexual orientation and gender identity, as cited by the UN’s Secretary General.
The United States of America, which is providing important aid in terms of healthcare and development to Uganda (more than 950 million dollars a year), have considered economic sanctions in response to the enactment of this lawU.S. Relations With Uganda – United States Department of State. (2022, March 18). United States Department of State. https://www.state.gov/u-s-relations-with-uganda/. President Joe Biden has called the American National Security Council to apply sanctions, notably regarding visa delivery and the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), as well as other forms of assistance and investment. The eligibility of Uganda to the African Growth and Opportunity Act could also be called into question if the law is not repealed. These sanctions could have a significant impact on the economy of the country, and also on local populations.
Development aid and international funding are playing a crucial role in Uganda’s economy. Between 1990 and 2006, foreign assistance represented an average of 11 % of the national GDPUNU-WIDER. (2021). The impact of foreign aid on the fiscal behaviour of the Ugandan government. https://www.wider.unu.edu/publication/impact-foreign-aid-fiscal-behaviour-ugandan-government. The Agence Française de Développement (AFD) also supports investments in key sectors such as drinking water, renewable energies, and the protection of the natural heritage of UgandaAgence Française de Développement (AFD). (12 Septembre 2019). Ouganda https://www.afd.fr/fr/page-region-pays/ouganda.
The diplomatic and economic consequences of this discriminatory law will have a strong impact on Uganda. The economic sanctions and reduction of development aid are sending a clear message to the Ugandan authorities, showing that the international community will not be tolerating the violations of human rights, and that measures will be taken to defend LGBTQI+ rights.
Criminalisation of homosexual relations: direct consequences on Ugandan public healthcare systems
It is legitimate to ask ourselves what the repercussions of such a law will have on the healthcare system of the country, especially regarding access to care for LGBTQI+ people. There are also questions regarding the stigmatisation and discrimination that could lead to impossible access to the tools and necessary care needed for preventing and treating HIV for the affected people, despite notable progress that has been made these last few years regarding the prevention of the virusDonnées de la Banque Mondiale. (2021) Incidence du VIH (% de la population de 15 à 49 ans) – Ouganda. https://donnees.banquemondiale.org/indicator/SH.HIV.INCD.ZS?locations=UG.
HIV represents a crucial issue within healthcare systems in Uganda. The epidemic, which culminated in the 1980s and 1990s, has led to high rates of HIV prevalence and also significant sanitary and social consequences, especially via mother-child transmission of the virus from birth. In 2016, this rate was 466 transmissions for 100,000UNICEF Uganda (n.d.). HIV and AIDS. https://www.unicef.org/uganda/what-we-do/hiv-aids people, while the goal was to reach 50 for 100,000. The Ugandan healthcare system had to react by developing infrastructures, reinforcing health services, and making efforts in prevention to fight against the propagation of HIV and to offer care and support to those touched by the epidemic.
In a joint statement, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the UNAIDS and the PEPFAR highlighted the importance of a strong, established healthcare system to support prevention and fighting against HIV, which then benefits to the whole Ugandan populationFonds mondial, ONUSIDA et PEPFAR. (29 Mai 2023). Déclaration conjointe des dirigeants du Fonds mondial, de l’ONUSIDA et du PEPFAR sur la loi contre l’homosexualité votée par l’Ouganda en … Continue reading. The significant progress of Uganda against the prevention and management of HIV are also commanded and qualified as being “exemplary”. These systems, which proved to be crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic, are playing an essential role in maintaining a solid healthcare system in Uganda.
Moreover, this new anti-LGBTQI+ legislation has direct consequences on prevention and sexual education programs. The criminalisation of homosexual relations is making this subject taboo because it directly relates to an institutionally criminalised fact. Consequently, it prevents discussions and sexual education, especially regarding the prevention of STDs/STIs, including HIV – which is constituting a health risk for the country. This situation particularly exposes the most vulnerable LGBTQI+ populations, especially younger ones, to an exclusion from healthcare systems and to stigmatisationMukombozi R. (2023, February 7). Don’t treat homosexuals in our facilities, says Maj Gen Takirwa. Monitor. … Continue reading.
Furthermore, the victims of this discrimination and this hostile environment are more likely to suffer from health problems such as depression, anxiety, and other disorders. It is therefore crucial to reconsider this discriminatory legislation in order to promote an inclusive society and to guarantee equal access to quality health services for all.
Between influence and incidence: the regional repercussion of the enactment of this law
The enactment of anti-LGBTQI+ laws in Uganda does not limit itself to the borders of the country, but also has regional repercussions, with a potential to influence neighbouring countries that might adopt similar legislations.
The regional influence of Uganda is a determining factor in this dynamic. The country exerts a genuine influence within East Africa, especially in the East African Community (EAC), both politically and economically. The pan-African philosophy, which encompasses and supports the legitimate resistance to oppression, manifested itself in the financial and political support brought by Uganda to national African liberation movements in countries such as Sudan, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of CongoMurray, E., Mesfin, B., & Wolters, S. (September 2016). WEAK UGANDAN DEMOCRACY, STRONG REGIONAL INFLUENCE. Peaceworks. … Continue reading. This enhanced influence within the region could weaken the regional efforts of LGBTQI+ activists, aiming to promote inclusivity, diversity, and equality, thus jeopardizing regional initiatives for the protection of human rights and LGBTQI+ people’s rights. Thus, these advances could be called into question, and perhaps even be completely excluded from public debates, provoking a setback of LGBTQI+ rights and exacerbating challenges in terms of human rights in the region.
This enactment could create a “legislative contagion” effect, thus normalising an LGBTI-phobic ideology in the regionBhalla, N. (2023, March 14). FEATURE-LGBTQ+ Kenyans and Ugandans hide from wave of homophobic abuse. Reuters.https://www.reuters.com/article/uganda-lgbt-hatecrime-idUSL4N3584J1. It has already been the case when the “Kill Gay Act” was adopted in Uganda in 2014, another anti-LGBTQI+ law which then later sparked the implementation of similar legislations in neighbouring countries such as Nigeria and GambiaReporter, G. S. (2017, November 30). Nigeria’s president signs law imposing up to 14 years’ jail for gay relationships. The Guardian. … Continue readingGambia’s National Assembly Passes Anti-Gay Bill. (2022, December 13). Human Rights First. https://humanrightsfirst.org/library/gambias-national-assembly-passes-anti-gay-bill/. Some conservative groups, both political and religious, pressured their respective governments to consider implementing similar legislation, citing Uganda as an example to follow. This propagation of discriminatory laws in a region where the norms and the protection of human rights are already fragile can give the impression that these laws are acceptable or encouragedNjuki, R. (2023, June 7). Why Uganda’s Anti-LGBTQ Law Is Bad for Africa. Opinion. Newsweek. https://www.newsweek.com/why-ugandas-anti-lgbtq-law-bad-africa-opinion-1804599.
Moreover, LGBTQI-phobic laws and repression expressly led against them incites those affected to emigrate to neighbouring countries in order to avoid the threat in Uganda, by seeking asylum and protectionAllison, B. P. (2023, May 4). Uganda anti-gay laws: Beaten and forced to flee for being LGBT. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-65455631. Thus, the question of protection of rights and security of LGBTQI+ asylum seekers is being asked.
The humanitarian organisations have to face a migratory flux not only from Uganda, but also in other countries of the Great Lakes region, such as Burundi, where homosexual acts are illegal, and the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, where LGBTQI+ people are not protected from discrimination by any constitutional protectionSinclair, D., & Sinatti, G. (2021, September 28). Re-thinking protection for LGBTI refugees in Kampala, Uganda: A Relational, trust-based approach. OUP Academic. … Continue reading. LGBTQI+ people in this region are facing, like in Uganda, serious discriminationMaps of anti-LGBT Laws Country by Country. (n.d.). Humans Right Watch. https://features.hrw.org/features/features/lgbt_laws/Ferragamo, M. (2023, June 13). Africa’s Struggle Toward Inclusive LGBTQ+ Laws. Council on Foreign Relations. https://www.cfr.org/article/africas-struggle-toward-inclusive-lgbtq-laws. This complex situation leads people to seek refuge elsewhere and limits asylum possibilities within the region.
There is also the question of refuge in the West. The themes of immigration and hosting capacities are taking more and more space in public debates in Europe, and now also include the issues of asylum rights and refuge for LGBTQI+ that are victims of persecution. In Great Britain for instance, the Illegal Migration Bill is currently debated in the British Parliament. In this context, MP Nadia Whittome highlighted the necessity of welcoming Ugandan refugees that are fleeing the new LGBTI-phobic lawMP Whittome N. (2023). Nadia Whittome MP : “The Illegal Migration Bill is an attack on the right to seek asylum in the UK”. GAY TIMES. … Continue reading. Asylum for LGBTQI+ victims of persecution is becoming an important issue in the Western public debate on migration and highlights once again the crucial necessity to collaborate between governments and international organisations in order to guarantee the safety of the involved people.
Building an inclusive future: the need to collaborate in order to insure the protection of LGBTQI+ people in Uganda
In the case of Uganda, a country very dependent on foreign aid, it is primordial to recognize the crucial role that governments and diplomacy play in the process of condemning these discriminatory laws. As the law has been enacted on the 26th of May 2023, potential measures from the international community could be expected, such as harsher economic sanctions if the law is not repealed.
A concrete example illustrating the power of international economic sanctions on governments is Brunei which, in 2019, adopted anti-LGBTQI+ laws. In this situation, the international community reacted by calling for a boycott of companies linked to the Bruneian government, notably in the hotel industryPhilip, B. (13 mai 2019). Face aux menaces de boycott, le sultan de Brunei poussé à un compromis sur la charia. Le … Continue reading. This mobilization had a major impact by exercising a significant pressure on the government, urging it to reconsider these discriminatory laws, that have finally been repealed. This shows that economic sanctions have a real pressuring power on governments.
It is legitimate to wonder about the possible reaction of Museveni’s government, known for its hostility towards the LGBTQI+ community, as well as the long-term consequences of the implementation of such sanctions could lead to in Uganda and in the region.
To quote this article: Donia Agchar (2023). Enactment of the Anti-LGBTQI+ Law in Uganda: A Look at National Consequences and Geopolitical Challenges. Gender in Geopolitics Institute. igg-geo.org/?p=14200&lang=en
The statements in this article are the sole responsibility of the author.
|↑1||Parliament of Uganda. (2023). President assents Anti-Homosexuality Act. https://www.parliament.go.ug/news/6737/president-assents-anti-homosexuality-act|
|↑2||Delhaye, C. (13 mai 2023). La mise en danger croissante des personnes LGBTI+ en Ouganda. Institut du Genre en Géopolitique. https://igg-geo.org/?p=12508|
|↑3||The Guardian. (2023, March 14). LGBTQ crackdowns in Uganda as environment becomes hostile. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2023/mar/14/lgbtq-crackdowns-uganda-environment-hostile|
|↑4||Commission Africaine des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples. (2019). Résolution sur la protection contre la violence et d’autres violations des droits de l’homme basées sur l’orientation sexuelle et l’identité de genre. https://achpr.au.int/fr/adopted-resolutions/275-resolution-sur-la-protection-contre-la-violence-et-dautres-violations-des|
|↑5||Parlement européen. (2023). Proposition de résolution sur la situation des droits de l’homme en Ouganda. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/B-9-2023-0222_FR.html|
|↑6||White House. (2023, May 29). Statement from President Joe Biden on the Enactment of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2023/05/29/statement-from-president-joe-biden-on-the-enactment-of-ugandas-anti-homosexuality-act/|
|↑7||Ministère de l’Europe et des Affaires étrangères. (30 mai 2023). Droits LGBT+ : Loi anti-homosexualité en Ouganda – La France exprime ses plus vives inquiétudes (30.05.23). https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/dossiers-pays/ouganda/evenements/article/droits-lgbt-loi-anti-homosexualite-en-ouganda-la-france-exprime-ses-plus-vives|
|↑8||Nations Unies. (30 mai 2023). Déclaration du Secrétaire général sur l’adoption de la loi anti-homosexualité en Ouganda [Communiqué de presse] https://press.un.org/fr/2023/sgsm21816.doc.htm|
|↑9||Amnesty International. (2023, May). President’s Museveni’s approval of anti-LGBTI bill is an assault on human rights. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2023/05/presidents-musevenis-approval-of-anti-lgbti-bill-is-a-assault-on-human-rights/|
|↑10||Né libres et égaux : Standards pour la protection des droits des personnes LGBTI. (2012). Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/Documents/Publications/BornFreeAndEqualLowRes_FR.pdf|
|↑11||United Nations in Uganda. The UN in Uganda. https://uganda.un.org/en/about/about-the-un|
|↑12||U.S. Relations With Uganda – United States Department of State. (2022, March 18). United States Department of State. https://www.state.gov/u-s-relations-with-uganda/|
|↑13||UNU-WIDER. (2021). The impact of foreign aid on the fiscal behaviour of the Ugandan government. https://www.wider.unu.edu/publication/impact-foreign-aid-fiscal-behaviour-ugandan-government|
|↑14||Agence Française de Développement (AFD). (12 Septembre 2019). Ouganda https://www.afd.fr/fr/page-region-pays/ouganda|
|↑15||Données de la Banque Mondiale. (2021) Incidence du VIH (% de la population de 15 à 49 ans) – Ouganda. https://donnees.banquemondiale.org/indicator/SH.HIV.INCD.ZS?locations=UG|
|↑16||UNICEF Uganda (n.d.). HIV and AIDS. https://www.unicef.org/uganda/what-we-do/hiv-aids|
|↑17||Fonds mondial, ONUSIDA et PEPFAR. (29 Mai 2023). Déclaration conjointe des dirigeants du Fonds mondial, de l’ONUSIDA et du PEPFAR sur la loi contre l’homosexualité votée par l’Ouganda en 2023 [Communiqué de presse]https://www.theglobalfund.org/fr/news/2023/2023-05-29-joint-statement-by-the-leaders-global-fund-unaids-pepfar-uganda-anti-homosexuality-act-2023/|
|↑18||Mukombozi R. (2023, February 7). Don’t treat homosexuals in our facilities, says Maj Gen Takirwa. Monitor. https://www.monitor.co.ug/uganda/news/national/don-t-treat-homosexuals-in-our-facilities-says-maj-gen-takirwa-4114502|
|↑19||Murray, E., Mesfin, B., & Wolters, S. (September 2016). WEAK UGANDAN DEMOCRACY, STRONG REGIONAL INFLUENCE. Peaceworks. https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/PW120-Weak-Ugandan-Democracy-Strong-Regional-Influence.pdf|
|↑20||Bhalla, N. (2023, March 14). FEATURE-LGBTQ+ Kenyans and Ugandans hide from wave of homophobic abuse. Reuters.https://www.reuters.com/article/uganda-lgbt-hatecrime-idUSL4N3584J1|
|↑21||Reporter, G. S. (2017, November 30). Nigeria’s president signs law imposing up to 14 years’ jail for gay relationships. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/13/nigerian-president-signs-anti-gay-law|
|↑22||Gambia’s National Assembly Passes Anti-Gay Bill. (2022, December 13). Human Rights First. https://humanrightsfirst.org/library/gambias-national-assembly-passes-anti-gay-bill/|
|↑23||Njuki, R. (2023, June 7). Why Uganda’s Anti-LGBTQ Law Is Bad for Africa. Opinion. Newsweek. https://www.newsweek.com/why-ugandas-anti-lgbtq-law-bad-africa-opinion-1804599|
|↑24||Allison, B. P. (2023, May 4). Uganda anti-gay laws: Beaten and forced to flee for being LGBT. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-65455631|
|↑25||Sinclair, D., & Sinatti, G. (2021, September 28). Re-thinking protection for LGBTI refugees in Kampala, Uganda: A Relational, trust-based approach. OUP Academic. https://academic.oup.com/rsq/article/41/1/26/6377251|
|↑26||Maps of anti-LGBT Laws Country by Country. (n.d.). Humans Right Watch. https://features.hrw.org/features/features/lgbt_laws/|
|↑27||Ferragamo, M. (2023, June 13). Africa’s Struggle Toward Inclusive LGBTQ+ Laws. Council on Foreign Relations. https://www.cfr.org/article/africas-struggle-toward-inclusive-lgbtq-laws|
|↑28||MP Whittome N. (2023). Nadia Whittome MP : “The Illegal Migration Bill is an attack on the right to seek asylum in the UK”. GAY TIMES.|
|↑29||Philip, B. (13 mai 2019). Face aux menaces de boycott, le sultan de Brunei poussé à un compromis sur la charia. Le Monde.https://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2019/05/13/le-sultan-de-brunei-pousse-a-un-compromis-sur-la-charia_5461213_3210.html|