Laws passed over the last 18 months in Uganda have triggered an increase in gender and homophobic discrimination, violent attacks, and an increase in state repression, according to a report from Amnesty International.

The report details how three new laws – the Anti-Pornography Act, the Public Order Management Act, and the now nullified Anti-Homosexuality Act – have violated fundamental human rights, fuelled discriminatory abuses, and left individuals unable to seek justice.

Legitimising abuses

While the Anti-Homosexuality Act was in force, people who identified as – or were perceived to be – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) were arbitrarily arrested, including when reporting crimes against them. Some were beaten and groped by police and other detainees in custody. The Act also led to LGBTI people being evicted from their homes, losing their jobs, and subjected to mob attacks.

In the days after the Anti-Pornography Act was signed, there were a number of cases where women were attacked by mobs, harassed by the police, and one lawyer was threatened with arrest because of her clothing. After several women deemed to be ‘dressed indecently’ were stripped in the street in mob attacks, the police publicly stated that the Anti-Pornography Act did not give the public ‘authority to undress women’. However, authorities failed to issue a statement in response to homophobic attacks.

Freedom of assembly and association

The report details how the right to freedom of assembly has come under attack through the Public Order Management Act, which imposes wide-ranging restrictions on public meetings. Police have suppressed gatherings involving political opposition groups and crackdowns on activists.

Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for east Africa, Sarah Jackson said: ‘Repression in Uganda is increasingly state sanctioned through the use of blatantly discriminatory legislation that erodes rights guaranteed in the country’s Constitution. The government must act now to revise these toxic laws, which threaten the core of human rights in Uganda.

‘The Public Order Management Act has had a devastating effect on the ability of civil society to organise, even stymieing attempts to challenge the laws themselves. It essentially reverses the basic premise on which the right to freedom of assembly is based. Instead of facilitating peaceful demonstrations, it imposes wide restrictions on them.

‘Even though the Anti-Homosexuality Act has been nullified, its effects are still felt and the fundamental issues have not been dealt with. People who would normally speak out in defence of others have been stigmatised and silenced.’