Uganda: Petitioners take anti-gay law to constitutional court

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)

A petition has been filed to the Constitutional Court of Uganda seeking to repeal the Anti Homosexuality Act 2014, on the grounds that it is “draconian” and “unconstitutional”.

The petitioners — MP Fox Odoi, Joe Oloka Onyango, Andrew Mwenda, Ogenga Latigo, Paul Semugooma, Jacqueline Kasha, Julian Onziema, Frank Mugisha and two civil society organisations — are challenging sections 1, 2 and 4 of the recently passed anti-gay law, which criminalise homosexual activity, between consenting adults in private. They argue these sections are in contravention of the right to privacy and equality before the law without discrimination, guaranteed under the Ugandan constitution. They also claim the that bill was passed without quorum in parliament, despite Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi informing the speaker of this — also an unconstitutional act.

Addressing the media after filing the petition, Odoi vowed to fight for the rights of gay people even if it meant him losing support from his constituency. “I would rather lose my seat in parliament than leave the rights of the minorities to be trampled upon. I don’t fear losing an election, but I fear living in a society that has no room for minorities,” he said. “A country that cannot tolerate minority groups like gays should never claim to be democratic, lawful and pro-people,” he added.

The petitioners have highlighted several parts of the new law that they believe to be unconstitutional. They argue that life sentence for homosexuality is in contravention of the freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, while the section subjecting persons charged with “aggravated homosexuality” to compulsory HIV test is inconsistent with a number of articles in the constitution.

The petition also argues that through banning aiding, abetting, counselling, procuring and promotion of homosexuality, the law is creating overly broad offences. Additionally, the group state that it’s wrong for the act to penalise legitimate debate on homosexuality, as well as professional counsel, HIV-related service provision and access to general health services for gay people.

Petitioner Ogenga Latigo, former leader of the opposition in parliament, questioned the competence of the speaker of parliament who passed the law without quorum. Speaker Rebecca Kadaga has in the past been vocal about her disdain for homosexuals, and wanted this law passed before the end of 2012 as a “Christmas gift” to Ugandans. “The speaker’s position should always remain neutral while tabling issues in parliament, but our speaker went on and enforced her views on all MPs; the speaker never followed the procedures that govern the passing of laws in parliament because of her homophobic beliefs,” he said.

The group argues that since the law was enacted, there has been an increase in the number of violent attacks on gay people. In other instances, they say, those suspected or known to be gay have been evicted from their apartments by homophobic landlords.

Odoi, who authored a minority report against the bill before it was passed by parliament, is optimistic that the petition will succeed, if the case is handled by unbiased judges. “We want court to declare the law unconstitutional, null and void and cease to be a binding law, thus give a chance to homosexuals to enjoy their rights and freedoms,” he asserted.

This article was posted on March 14 2014 at