Uganda president signs anti-homosexuality bill into law

Uganda’s president signed into law a wide-ranging anti-LGBTQ bill on Monday that imposes life imprisonment for same-sex activity and the death penalty in some cases, signaling an intensification of the East African nation’s crackdown on LGBTQ+ people despite widespread international condemnation of the law.

The Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 punishes with death those found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality,” a category broadly defined by legislators to include offenses that range from having gay sex with a minor to seducing someone through “misrepresentation” or “undue influence.”

The law also imposes life imprisonment for anyone found to have performed a sexual act with a person of the same gender, and up to seven years in prison for “an attempt to commit the offense of homosexuality.”

“The people of Uganda have spoken,” tweeted parliamentary speaker Anita Annet Among, announcing that President Yoweri Museveni had signed the legislation. “I now encourage the duty bearers under the law to execute the mandate bestowed upon them in the Anti-Homosexuality Act.”

Uganda’s parliament originally passed the bill in March, but it was returned to legislators by a presidential veto. The final bill, approved by Museveni, remains largely the same but no longer includes a requirement for people to report homosexual activity nor criminalizes merely identifying as LGBTQ+.

President Biden released a statement condemning the law. “This shameful act is the latest development in an alarming trend of human rights abuses and corruption in Uganda,” Biden said. “I have directed my National Security Council to evaluate the implications of this law on all aspects of U.S. engagement with Uganda.”

The bill’s passage into law Monday sparked fear and confusion among LGBTQ+ Ugandans, many of whom have already fled the country.

“The news means that I will never see home again,” said a 32-year-old gay asylum seeker speaking to The Washington Post by phone from the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. He spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect his identity.

“I left Uganda in 2018; it was a scary time for me. I feel the fear, like that morning I ran away from my home. I am in the refugee camp at the moment and never felt so disillusioned in my life,” he said.

“I feel extremely scared,” said Jude, 38, who asked to be identified only by his first name to protect his identity, speaking by phone from the same refugee camp on Monday.

“It’s a tragedy on our story and entire community,” he said. “I have no option in Uganda.”

According to the Human Dignity Trust, a London-based nongovernmental organization that monitors the legal status of LGBTQ+ people in different countries, same-sex activity has been punishable by life imprisonment in Uganda since 1950, when the law was inherited from British colonial statutes. The organization said that there is substantial evidence of the previous law being used to arrest and arbitrarily detain LGBTQ+ people but that actual prosecutions are rare.

The U.S. connection to Uganda’s ‘kill the gays’ bill

Western officials and nongovernmental organizations condemned the act, with some arguing that Uganda’s stigmatization of LGBTQ+ people threatened the health of people with HIV there. “Uganda’s progress on its HIV response is now in grave jeopardy,” Winnie Byanyima, executive director of the Joint U.N. Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said in a joint statement also signed by the leaders of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

“LGBTQI+ people in Uganda increasingly fear for their safety and security, and increasing numbers of people are being discouraged from seeking vital health services for fear of attack, punishment and further marginalization,” they said.

Versions of Monday’s legislation targeting LGBTQ+ people have been around in Uganda since 2009. In 2014, Museveni’s government passed a similar law, whose first iteration included the death penalty for some offenses — but was struck down by the court for not following due parliamentary process.

Eric Gitari, an LGBTQ+ activist in Kenya, said in a statement: “It’s a sign of democracy in retreat. An attack on the Rule of Law. A political call to arrest and violate the rights of LGBTQ Ugandans. This has set a bad precedent in other African countries that are considering similar laws such as Kenya.”

“Nonetheless one day we shall defeat these assaults on our human rights and triumph in equality and inclusion for LGBTQ persons within African countries,” he added. “This ideal must be our guiding light in this moment of darkness and tears.”

Niha Masih contributed to this report.

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