Uganda has seen a surge in anti-gay violence since the Anti-Homosexuality Act was signed into law at the end of last year. According to a report from Sexual Minorities Uganda, there have been 162 incidents of intimidation and violence since the Act was passed, with one in three involving an element of violence, including personal attacks, kidnap and torture.

The figures collected are up to 19 times worse than those collected through the same channels for 2012/13, when just 19 similar cases were reported across the country. The previous year saw eight cases.

The report goes on to say that over 40 per cent of the reported cases involved intimidation, such as blackmail and threats of violence, and half involved loss of property, income or home.

Harmful reality

Frank Mugisha, Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), said: ‘The Anti-Homosexuality Act is not simply a formal legal document, it is a harmful reality with an immediate impact on the lives of ordinary Ugandans. The act is being used as a mandate for violent homophobic behaviour and has created a culture of impunity for those who wish to persecute sexual minority groups or individuals.

‘Every day we hear news that someone else has been victimised. I have never before seen our community hounded so persistently.’

The new law permits sentences of life imprisonment for some sexual acts between consenting adults. It criminalises the undefined ‘promotion’ of homosexuality, a provision that threatens human rights advocacy work and prompted a police raid on a university HIV research and intervention program. The law also criminalises ‘a person who keeps a house, room, set of rooms, or place of any kind for purposes of homosexuality’, a provision that has been used to justify evicting LGBTI tenants. These new provisions reinforce existing ones in the country’s penal code that criminalise consensual same-sex sexual relationships between men.

Fleeing the country

The most evident impact of the law has been significant uprooting of LGBTI people, many of whom have fled the country, and others who are homeless or in hiding within Uganda. Human Rights Watch interviewed 10 LGBTI people who had been evicted by landlords, who appear to be interpreting the Act to mean that it is illegal to rent to LGBTI people.

Hanifa Q. (her name and most others have been changed for security reasons), a lesbian in Kampala, showed Human Rights Watch an eviction letter she received from her landlord on March 3. Giving her one month to vacate the property, it reads: ‘You have been nice to me and paying very well. But due to the existing situation in the country plus your behavior with your friends, forgive me to suspect you of being indecent, I cannot allow you to rent my house, I cannot fight the government.’

Health crisis

The law has also resulted in reduced access to health services and HIV-prevention information for LGBTI people. In April, police raided a US-funded HIV research and treatment centre that provides health information and services to LGBTI people. The police claimed the centre was ‘recruiting’ people into homosexuality, despite the health minister, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, publicly pledging that health services would be provided to LGBTI people in a non-discriminatory way.

However, Eastern Africa deputy regional director at Amnesty International, Michelle Kagari said, ‘As long as the Anti-Homosexuality Act remains in force, the Ministry of Health cannot make credible assurances that health care will be provided to LGBTI people without discrimination.

‘For many LGBTI people, the risks of seeking service will outweigh the benefits: one “bad apple” within the health care system could send a gay or bisexual client to prison for life.’