Keeping it in the room: health, happiness and living in Berlin
The Constitutional Court in Uganda has struck out the country’s recently introduced ‘anti-homosexuality’ law, declaring it ‘null and void’, because it was passed without the requisite number of MPs. The law was originally dubbed the ‘Kill the Gays Bill’ due to the proposed death penalty it included. This was later watered down to life imprisonment for gay people, and seven years for anyone who fails to report them.
The legal challenge had been brought by 10 petitioners, including academics, journalists, MPs for both the government and opposition, human rights activists and rights groups.
Describing the legislation as ‘pernicious’, Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director of the Equal Rights Trust, said that the law violated many fundamental human rights of LGBT people in Uganda, including the right to a private life, the right to dignity and the right to equality.
However, she pointed out that the legislation was found unconstitutional only on procedural grounds, rather than for its substance, and urged Ugandan lawmakers not to attempt to re-enact the law. Any attempt to reintroduce the law would be difficult: it would need to start again at the beginning of the normal legal process and go through each of the committee stages, rather than being reintroduced at the final voting stage.
Jonathan Cooper, Chief Executive of the Human Dignity Trust, an organisation of international human rights lawyers supporting cases challenging laws that criminalise homosexuality, said that the court’s ruling was simply a temporary fix, adding that the international community must take the opportunity to support Ugandan’s gay and lesbian citizens. ‘Now the Act has gone,’ he said, ‘we must do all we can to stop it coming back. Uganda’s constitution – which protects its citizens’ rights to privacy and dignity – must be for all Ugandans.’
While describing the court judgement as ‘a significant victory for Ugandan activists’, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director, Sarah Jackson, pointed out that same-sex sexual activity remains illegal in the country, with the penal code criminalising ‘carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature.’
Since Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act came into force in March 2014, Amnesty has documented a sharp increase in arbitrary arrests, police abuse and extortion against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. Many lost their jobs, were left homeless, or were effectively forced to flee the country.
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell described events as ‘a major victory for gay campaigners and their straight allies in Uganda,’ while Andre Banks, Executive Director and co-founder of All Out, said: ‘The Constitutional Court’s judgement invalidating Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act is tremendous vindication for Ugandan human rights defenders who have always maintained that this unjust law was passed illegally.
‘No person in any country should have to sacrifice their freedom or their family because of who they are or who they love.’
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