Uganda's shocking record on gay rights

The government's stance on homosexuality is considered among the harshest in the world

29 Nov 2013
Hundreds of Ugandans took to the streets in support of the government's proposed anti-homosexuality bill in 2009 (Image: Edward Echwalu/Demotix)

Hundreds of Ugandans took to the streets in support of the government’s proposed anti-homosexuality bill in 2009 (Image: Edward Echwalu/Demotix)

The Ugandan government’s position on homosexuality is considered one of the harshest in the world. The proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill, seeks to, among other things, broaden the criminalisation of homosexuality so that Ugandans who engage in same-sex relations abroad can be extradited to Uganda and charged. Originally, some of the provisions in the law called for death penalties or life sentences for those convicted as homosexuals. It has since been amended to remove the proposal of death penalties, but the life sentences remain.

A special motion to introduce the legislation was passed only a month after a two-day conference where three American Christians asserted that homosexuality is a direct threat to the cohesion of African families. Indeed, the church — both Anglican and Catholic — plays a big role in shaping the government’s tough stance on homosexuality. New Pentecostal churches are also fuelling the anti-gay message, with firebrand crusaders like Pastor Martin Sempa at the forefront.

Together, the state and the church accuse the gay community of recruiting young people in schools. There have also been claims that gay people are recording sex videos with young Ugandans that they then sell abroad. It is said that young people are lured into this with promises of financial gains. Sixty-five-year-old Brit Bernard Randall is facing trial for engaging in gay sex, and for possession of videos of him engaging in gay sex.

Anti-gay legislation has been in place in Uganda for some time. Laws prohibiting same-sex sexual acts were first introduced under British colonial rule in the 19th century, and those were enshrined in the Penal Code Act 1950. Section 146 states that “any person who attempts to commit any of the offences specified in section 145 commits a felony and is liable to imprisonment for seven years.” On 29th September 2005, President Museveni also signed a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriages.

But the anti-gay bill is not the only story on this topic to come out of Uganda in recent times. In 2004, the Uganda Broadcasting Council fined Radio Simba $1,000 for hosting homosexuals on one of its shows, and the radio station was forced to make a public apology. In January 2011, LGBT activist David Kato was killed. Kato, together with Patience Onziema and Kasha Jacqueline, had successfully sued a Ugandan paper the Rolling Stone and its Managing Editor Giles Muhame. The paper had published their full names and photos, as well as those of a number of other allegedly gay people and called for the lynching of all homosexuals. The court issued a permanent injunction preventing the paper and the editor from publishing the identities of any other homosexuals. Kato’s murderer, Enoch Nsubuga, was handed down a 30-year prison sentence.

On 3 October 2011, a local human rights and LGBT activist challenged a part of the Equal Opportunities Commission Act in the Constitutional Court. Section 15(6)(d) prevents the Equal Opportunities Commission from investigating “any matter involving behaviour which is considered to be (i) immoral and socially harmful, or (ii) unacceptable by the majority of the cultural and social communities in Uganda.” The petitioner argued that this clause is discriminatory and violates the constitutional rights of minority populations. A decision has not yet been made on the petition.

The bill has, however, caused the most outrage. The Ugandan government and the evangelicals faced immense international criticism, and the bill was met with protests from LGBT, human rights and civil society groups. Countries including Sweden even threatened to stop their aid to Uganda in protest.

In response to the attention, the bill was revised to drop the death penalty, and President Yoweri Museveni formed a commission to investigate the possible repercussions of passing it. The Speaker of the Ugandan parliament promised in November 2012 the bill would pass by the end of the year as a Christmas gift for the group that supported it. It is, for now, still on hold. But while the Ugandan government has toned down its rhetoric against the gay community lately — this is believed to be due to international pressure — the persecution of gay people in the country persists.

This article was originally posted on 29 Nov 2013 at

One response to “Uganda’s shocking record on gay rights”

  1. MrK says:

    These Victorian era laws that are on the books in former British colonies, are most likely in contravention of the 1990s era Constitutions, which have articles that go very far in protecting against discrimination.

    Article 21 of the Ugandan Constitution:

    21. Equality and freedom from discrimination.

    (1) All persons are equal before and under the law in all spheres of political, economic, social and cultural life and in every other respect and shall enjoy equal protection of the law.

    (2) Without prejudice to clause (1) of this article, a person shall not be discriminated against on the ground of sex, race, colour, ethnic origin, tribe, birth, creed or religion, social or economic standing, political opinion or disability.

    (3) For the purposes of this article, “discriminate” means to give different treatment to different persons attributable only or mainly to their respective descriptions by sex, race, colour, ethnic origin, tribe, birth, creed or religion, social or economic standing, political opinion or disability.

    Article 20 of the Malawi Constitution:


    20. –

    1. Discrimination of persons in any form is prohibited and all persons are, under any law, guaranteed equal and effective protection against discrimination on grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, nationality, ethnic or social origin, disability, property, birth or other status.

    2. Legislation may be passed addressing inequalities in society and prohibiting discriminatory practices and the propagation of such practices and may render such practices criminally punishable by the courts.

    Article 15 of the Botswana Constitution


    15. Protection from discrimination on the grounds of race, etc.

    (1) Subject to the provisions of subsections (4), (5) and (7) of this section, no law shall make any provision that is discriminatory either of itself or in its effect.

    (2) Subject to the provisions of subsections (6), (7) and (8) of this section, no person shall be treated in a discriminatory manner by any person acting by virtue of any written law or in the performance of the functions of any public office or any public authority.

    (3) In this section, the expression “discriminatory” means affording different treatment to different persons, attributable wholly or mainly to their respective descriptions by race, tribe, place of origin, political opinions, colour or creed whereby persons of one such description are subjected to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of another such description are not made subject or are accorded privileges or advantages which are not accorded to persons of another such description.