Uganda's high court upholds key sections of Anti-Homosexuality Act

Uganda Anti Homosexuality Laws
Uganda Anti Homosexuality Laws

Uganda’s highest court on Wednesday rejected a petition to overturn the majority of the country’s controversial Anti-Homosexuality Act , according to Reuters and other media outlets.

The law, which was passed last year and garnered immediate international criticism, further criminalizes same-sex sexual relations in the culturally conservative country where such relations were already illegal. The sections found unconstitutional by the courts dealt with privacy issues and reporting requirements of individuals not engaged in sexual activities.

“We decline to nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 in its entirety, neither will we grant a permanent injunction against its enforcement," Deputy Chief Justice Richard Buteera said while reading the unanimous decision from the five-judge Constitutional Court.

Detractors immediately criticized the decision. Some feared the impact the ruling would have on efforts to curb the spread of HIV in Africa.

“The Constitutional Court of Uganda made a judgment today to strike down certain sections of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023,” Anne Githuku-Shongwe, UNAIDS regional director for Eastern and Southern Africa, said in a statement. “Evidence shows that criminalizing populations most at risk of HIV, such as the LGBTQ+ communities, obstructs access to life-saving health and HIV services, which undermines public health and the overall HIV response in the country.”

The draconian law criminalizes same-sex sexual relations and levies harsh penalties for allies, advocates, and those who do business with members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Sections of the law that were overturned required citizens to report suspected acts of same-sex sexual relations to authorities and penalized those who allowed their premises to be used to conduct acts of same-sex sexual relations. The court found these requirements violated citizens' privacy rights.

The law punishes individuals found to have engaged in same-sex sexual relations with a prison sentence of up to 20 years and makes certain instances punishable by death.

The law also permits authorities to “issue a protection order” for any youth suspected of engaging in same-sex sexual relations.

The death penalty applies to “aggravated homosexuality,” which is loosely defined as sex acts committed against children or people with mental or physical disabilities, acts involving incest or committed without a person’s consent, or acts committed by a “serial offender.”

A 20-year-old man was the first person to be charged with “aggravated homosexuality” after he was accused of having “performed unlawful sexual intercourse” with a reportedly developmentally disabled man last August.

Two men were charged with violating the law after they were caught having sex by a Peeping Tom last October.

The incident occurred during a heavy rainstorm in Kampala when a student sought shelter from the downpour on the veranda of a salon and heard sounds coming from within the salon.

“It was at this point that the student heard funny screaming sounds inside the salon,” Fred Enanga, a spokesperson for the Uganda Police, told reporters at the time. “The student picked up his phone and recorded the two suspects in the act of sodomy.”

In response to the law’s passage, the U.S. threatened to cut financial ties with the country, and the World Bank announced it was suspending any further loans to Uganda.