Justice at Last: Could a Court Case Still Save Gay Ugandans?
Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality law is already wreaking havoc, but a new lawsuit could finally offer a glimmer of hope for Uganda’s LGBT population.
A coalition of 50 groups, including opposition MPs, NGOs, human rights campaigners and high profiled members of various professions, all led by the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, are challenging the law before the Constitutional Court, arguing the “Jail the Gays Act” is in direct violation of the country’s human rights laws.
“I believe it [the law] to be harmful, redundant, unnecessary, and inconsistent with the constitution,” MP Fox Odoi is quoted as saying. The petition cites a number of acts of discrimination since the law came into force, including 10 arrests for what would otherwise have been considered lawful conduct, and a number of cases where people have been evicted from their rented accommodation by landlords who suspect the tenant of being gay.
“This Act not only represents an effort by the Executive and Parliament to scapegoat an unpopular minority for political gain but we believe it also violates the highest law of our country,” journalist Andrew Mwenda, who is one of the petitioners, is quoted as saying.
The challenge also contends that the Anti-Homosexuality bill violates the Ugandan peoples’ freedom of expression, their right to civic participation and freedom of assembly. It further uses examples of violence and stigmatization to contend the bill directly fosters homophobia and violates Uganda’s international commitments.
Despite an international outcry and warnings of immediate cuts to aid, President Yoweri Museveni signed the bill into law on February 24. The constitutional court must now set a date for a hearing. Despite such cases taking priority, it may take as many as six months to be heard due to a backlog of other cases. There appears to have been no demand for a temporary injunction against the law during that time.
The petitioners are also asking for a permanent injunction against media outlets so that they cannot publish the names and addresses of people they say are gay. This comes after Ugandan tabloid the Red Pepper published a front page story reading “Exposed: Uganda’s Top 200 Homos” despite a previous court injunction against Uganda’s Rolling Stone (no affiliation to the US publication) that explicitly stated this kind of action is unlawful because it violates a right to privacy and encourages discrimination and, potentially, violence.
While the law has served to bolster Museveni’s profile within Uganda, the legislation has angered high profiled members of the UN with ties to Africa, as well as the international community.
Former Ugandan Vice President Speciosa Wandira-Kazibwe, who is now the UN’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, has slammed the law because it “undermines the significant progress of the national AIDS response.” She added, “Rest assured of my unwavering support and action for the realization of the rights for every human being, which has been my struggle since childhood. I will not reverse my path.”
The World Bank has also suspended a $90 million loan to Uganda, with a spokesperson saying, ”We have postponed the project for further review to ensure that the development objectives would not be adversely affected by the enactment of this new law.”
In related news, Orange Uganda, a subsidiary of France Telecom and under the same umbrella as Orange UK, has cut advertising in Uganda’s Red Pepper after the paper’s attempts to out homosexuals. “The decision was made by [the] group to ensure that our brand does not contradict our company’s ethics and values,” Vanessa Clarke, director of external communications for Orange, is quoted as saying.
Despite all of this, Ugandan officials remain defiant that the Anti-Homosexuality bill, which makes it an offense to even know someone who is gay and not inform the police, is the right step for the country to combat the so-called Western import of homosexuality. Unfortunately, the law also seems to have emboldened other countries to take similar steps, with MPs in the Congolese said to be looking at a narrower but still harmful jail the gays law.
Will this court case eventually save Uganda’s LGBT population? Not on its own, but it could lead to a ruling that specifically gives LGBT Ugandans at least some protection from the hostile administration and lawmakers that are currently in power.
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