Progress in LGBT+ rights in Uganda?

In August this year, a LGBT pride event was raided by armed police and sixteen people were arrested. It was reported that police had claimed an illegal ‘gay wedding’ was taking place and detained around 200 people at the location for an hour. Reports of mistreatment, officers taking photographs of individuals without their consent, and transgender persons being ‘touched inappropriately’ to identify their ‘real gender’ have been made.

Despite the Ugandan government’s non-acknowledgment of violations of LGBT rights in the
country, examples of discrimination of LGBT persons such as this are rife. Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), an NGO which advocates for the protection and promotion of the human rights of LGBT Ugandans, produced a report highlighting an increase in attacks, evictions, and lack of access to employment against LGBT Ugandans in the aftermath of the passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. The Act, which further criminalised homosexuality and included provisions such as life imprisonment for ‘aggravated homosexuality’, and criminalised organisations that worked with/helped LGBT persons, was repealed in August 2014. SMUG’s report highlights the types of discrimination that LGBT Ugandan’s face on a daily basis, not to mention the violence that they fear.

These examples highlight that a lot more needs to be done to ensure the rights of LGBT Ugandans, however there are many obstacles in place.

Uganda participated in the first cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2011, whereby praise included the progress that they had made on combatting HIV/AIDS, and criticism focussed mainly on Uganda’s continued criminalisation of homosexuality and the discrimination that LGBT Ugandans faced daily. Uganda stated that while their Constitution guarantees the rights of all persons, ‘the promotion and protection of human rights must be carried out within [the] social and cultural context’. Of 20 rejected recommendations by Uganda, 17 of them regarded LGBT rights and the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Villagers in Tetugu, Northern Uganda discuss human rights and land issues under the guidance of the UNDP

Villagers in Tetugu, Uganda discuss human rights and land issues | UNDP

Five years later and Uganda is now participating in their second cycle of the UPR. Uganda’s report highlights a number of improvements with regards to human rights. For example, they have domesticated the UN’s Convention Against Torture, implemented a National Action Plan on Human Rights, established an Equal Opportunities Commission, adopted the Second National Development Plan which incorporates the principle of a human rights based approach to development, and increased funding for malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.

However, despite acknowledging the UN’s recommendations on improving LGBT rights, Uganda failed to mention any schemes or progress made on this issue. Instead, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed their concern over Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law, discriminatory provisions within the Penal Code Act and the persistence of stereotypes and discrimination against sexual minorities and LGBT persons.

Evolving concepts of Human Rights Law include a broad interpretation to incorporate rights and protections of LGBT persons. Human Rights law imposes an absolute prohibition on discrimination, and The Yogyakarta Principles analyses human rights law and its application to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, affirming ‘binding international legal standards with which all States must comply’.

Before Uganda can comply, it must deal with obstacles such as its government’s claim of human rights needing to be interpreted in light of social and cultural traditions, and a majority population supporting the Anti-Homosexuality Act. There is no excuse, however, for discrimination of any form to be tolerated, and the UN must work to ensure that human rights for everyone are enforced.

Last month, a court case brought forward by the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum in Uganda concerning a provision in Uganda’s anti-discrimination legislation that meant that the law could discriminate against women, LGBT people, and sex workers etc. was decided to be unjustifiable and has been repealed. This now means that all Ugandans should be able to bring cases of discrimination, of any form, to court, including for LGBT persons. This is a positive move, and while a step in the right direction, LGBT Ugandans still face discrimination on a daily basis and need a government and a UN that will fight for their rights to be respected.

Thumbnail Image: Yarn Bombing in Berlin, Germany for LGBT Rights | distelfliege

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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