Homosexual sex is criminalised under Ugandan Law as an “unnatural offence” and as “acts of gross indecency”. The Penal Code Act, which had been inherited from British colonial rule, prescribes punishment of imprisonment for life for “having carnal knowledge against the order of nature”.
The climate for LGBT persons in the country is hostile and discriminatory. In 2009 an Anti-Homosexuality Bill was introduced in Parliament in order to clearly define the offence of homosexuality and related offences. The Bill also aimed at dramatically expanding criminal liability for consensual sexual activity between adults of the same sex.
The passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act in December 2013 caused a surge of human rights violations against LGBT persons while ensuring that the victims of these violations were denied access to effective remedies. Although the Act was annulled by the Ugandan Constitutional Court in August 2014 (see below), it has been reported that a new anti-gay law which is even more draconian that the Anti-Homosexuality Act will soon be introduced in Parliament.
The Ugandan Penal Code Act of 1950 (Chapter 120) criminalises homosexual sex under Chapter XIV of the Code, which is entitled “Offences against morality”:
145. Unnatural offences.
Any person who—
(a) has carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature;
(c) permits a male person to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature,
commits an offence and is liable to imprisonment for life.
146. Attempt to commit unnatural offences.
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.
148. Indecent practices.
Any person who, whether in public or in private, commits any act of gross indecency with another person or procures another person to commit any act of gross indecency with him or her or attempts to procure the commission of any such act by any person with himself or herself or with another person, whether in public or in private, commits an offence and is liable to imprisonment for seven years.
In 2000, the Penal Code Amendment (Gender References) Act was passed, changing references to “any male” to “any person” and thereby criminalizing grossly indecent acts between women.
Recognition of same-sex relationships
Same-sex couples may not adopt children.
Gays and lesbians are not permitted to serve openly in the military.
Legal change of gender
Ugandan citizens have no right to change their assigned gender in law.
Article 21 of the Ugandan Constitution guarantees equality and freedom from discrimination to all Ugandan citizens.
In the case of Mukasa and Another v Attorney-General (see below) the High Court ruled that the Constitutional protection of personal liberty, privacy, freedom from unlawful searches and degrading treatment and punishment apply to all Ugandan citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender expression.
In this case, Local Council officials forcibly entered the house of an LGBTI activist (the first applicant), rummaged through her belongings, confiscated documents and arrested the second applicant who was her house guest. The second applicant was sexually assaulted while in police custody in a purported attempt to “establish her sex” and was later released without being charged.
The High Court ordered compensation to be paid to both applicants for the various violations of constitutional rights that they had suffered.
A case was instituted against a Ugandan newspaper (Rolling Stone) which published the names, addresses and photographs of 100 “alleged homosexuals” in an article entitled: “Hang them: They are after our kids!!!”. The applicants, three prominent Ugandan LGBT rights activists, were among the people listed in the article.
The High Court affirmed that everyone is entitled to fundamental rights, regardless of their sexual orientation. The Court also stated that section 145 of the Penal Code Act only criminalises specific acts related to homosexual sex and not homosexuality in itself. It held that the publication of details of the applicants, along with a call to hang them, infringed their rights to human dignity and privacy and threatened the infringement of their right to be protected from inhuman treatment.
The Court ordered a permanent injunction restraining the respondents from further publicizing the identities and whereabouts of the applicants and anyone else who is (allegedly) homosexual.
An Equal Opportunities Commission was established under the Ugandan Constitution with the task of investigating and taking action in cases of discrimination against marginalized groups. Despite the mandate of the Commission, a section of the Equal Opportunities Commission Act (Section 15(6)(d)) provides that the Commission shall not investigate any matter which involves behavior which is considered to be “immoral” or “unacceptable by the majority of cultural and social communities of Uganda”. The section thus denies sexual minorities audience before the Commission.
In January 2011, a petition was filed in the Constitutional Court, challenging this section of the Equal Opportunities Act. The case was heard by a five judge bench on 3 October 2011 and to date, no judgment has been delivered. In July 2013, a coalition of civil society organisations petitioned the High Court for a ruling, arguing that the delay in disposing of this case is denying marginalized groups the enjoyment of fundamental rights. Two of the judges who heard the case has since retired and one passed away. The case might be heard afresh.
In this case, proceedings were instituted against the Ugandan Minister of Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lokodo, for shutting down an LGBTI rights training workshop in 2012. The Minister had declared the workshop to be “an illegal meeting of homosexuals” and ordered its dispersal.
It was argued on behalf of the applicants that the Minister’s actions infringed the participants’ rights to freedom of assembly, political participation, speech and equal treatment before the law.
The High Court held that the training workshop for LGBT activists was an instance of incitement to commit homosexual acts prohibited by section 145 of the Penal Code Act. It held that the Minister had acted in the public interest and attempted to protect public moral standards by shutting down the meeting. It was also held that limitation of rights of the applicants is in the interest of the broader public and therefore justified in terms of Article 43 of the Constitution. The application was dismissed with costs.
A coalition of petitioners filed a petition challenging the lawfulness of the Anti-Homosexuality Act under the auspices of the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law.
The petitioners submitted that many of the offences created by the Act attracted disproportionate sanctions and constituted infringements of the right to equality, human dignity, privacy and freedom from inhuman, cruel and degrading treatment or punishment.
The Constitutional Court annulled the Anti-Homosexuality Act on the technical basis that it was passed without the necessary quorum of parliamentarians present.
In this matter, a gay man and a transgender woman were respectively charged under sections 145(a) and 145(c) of the Penal Code Act for “having carnal knowledge of a person against the order of nature” and “permitting a male person to have carnal knowledge against the order of nature”.
Following their arrest, the two accused suffered numerous human rights violations which included being subjected to anal examinations and HIV testing without their consent. They were only released on bail after spending four months in detention.
Between May and October 2014, their case was adjourned three times. The case was dismissed when the prosecution once again failed to produce witnesses when the accused appeared in the Magistrates’ Court for the fourth time.
This case is a shallow victory because the numerous violations and infringements of dignity which the two people suffered remains unaddressed and charges can be reinstated by the prosecution.
2002: American evangelist and president of Abiding truth Ministries, Scott Lively, commences his hateful advocacy against homosexuality in Uganda. Lively has succeeded in convincing a significant number of Ugandan politicians and religious leaders to campaign for the restriction of LGBTI rights. His religious organisation, which has been classified by the Southern Poverty Centre as a hate group, has actively opposed the “international homosexual movement”, which he describes as “the most dangerous social and political movement of our time”, through strategies designed to silence sexual minorities and coerce “conversion therapy”. The organisation propagates the notion that people who engage in same sex sexual activity pose a significant risk of sexual abuse to children and warns that the “homosexual movement” is intent on “recruiting” young and vulnerable persons as its members.
2004: The Ugandan Broadcasting Council fined Radio Simba and ordered it to make a public apology for hosting a live talk show featuring homosexual guests.
October 2009: The Anti-Homosexuality Bill is introduced in Parliament, proposing the death penalty for serial offenders, HIV-positive people who engage in sexual activity with people of the same sex, and persons who engage in same-sex sexual acts with people under 18 years of age. The Bill also proposed imprisonment for individuals or companies that promote LGBT rights and for “person in authority” who fail to report any offence under the Act within 24 hours.
January 2011: David Kato, an outspoken LGBT rights activist and one of the applicants in the case against Rolling Stone newspaper, was brutally murdered in his home. Kato was one of the “alleged homosexuals” listed in the Rolling Stone article and he received numerous death threats following this publication.
2012: The Ugandan Ethics and Integrity Minister, Simon Lokodo, announced a ban on 38 non-governmental organisations he accused of existing to “destroy the traditions and culture” of the country by “encouraging homosexuality”.
March 2012: A coalition of Ugandan LGBTI organisations filed a lawsuit against Scott Lively for his decade-long campaign to persecute Ugandans on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Persecution is a crime against humanity and is defined under international law as the “intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law by reason of the identity of the group or collectivity”. The suit was filed in the United States District Court in Springfield, Massachussets under the Alien Tort Statute. The Court has denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss. The defendant’s petition to the First Circuit for a Writ of Mandamus is pending.
August 2012: The Media Council intervened in the staging of a play at the National Theatre which highlights the difficulties of being gay in Uganda.
February 2013: A British theatre producer, who had settled in Uganda, was arrested for staging a play with a gay character despite orders from Uganda’s Media Council to shut down the production. The criminal case against him was dismissed, but he was re-arrested and deported two months later on orders from the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
December 2013: The Ugandan parliament passed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Before its passage, parliament adjusted the death penalty clause to life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality”.
February 2014: The Anti-Homosexuality Act was promulgated by President Yoweri Museveni.
June 2014: The American State Department announced sanctions against Uganda in response to the adoption of the Anti-Homosexuality Act.
August 2014: The Ugandan Constitutional Court annulled the Anti-Homosexuality Act because it had been passed without the necessary quorum of lawmakers present.
November 2014: a leaked copy of the draft the “Prohibition of Promotion of Unnatural Sexual Practices Bill” surfaces amongst activists.
Civil Society Organisations Working in LGBT Issues
Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG)
Postal address: P.O. Box:501, Ntinda Kampala
Tel: +256 312 518 501 / +256 771 840 233
Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF)
Postal address: P.O. Box 25603 Kampala, 0256
Physical address: Apolo Nsibambi Road, 20 metres off Balintuma Road, Namirembe
Tel: +256 414 530 683
Postal Address: P.O.Box 33461 Kampala Uganda
Tel: +256 779 009 014
Rainbow Health Foundation (RAHEFO)
Physical address: Plot 69 High Street, Mbarara
Tel: +256 776 198 123
Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG)
Support Initiative for Persons with Congenital Disorders (SIPD)
Postal Address: P.O. Box 26608 Kampala Uganda
Tel: +256 414 274 782