Ugandan court strikes down widely criticised anti-gay law

Homosexuality remains criminal offence in east African country, activists warn

Gay and lesbian activists attend a gay pride parade in Kampala. The Ugandan law struck down yesterday banned the “promotion of homosexuality” and enabled life sentences to be imposed for various same-sex acts, including touching in public or living in a same-sex marriage. Photograph: EPA/Rachel Adams

Gay and lesbian activists attend a gay pride parade in Kampala. The Ugandan law struck down yesterday banned the “promotion of homosexuality” and enabled life sentences to be imposed for various same-sex acts, including touching in public or living in a same-sex marriage. Photograph: EPA/Rachel Adams

Sat, Aug 2, 2014, 01:00

Gay rights activists in Uganda and around the world are celebrating a decision by the country’s constitutional court to strike down a widely condemned anti-gay law on a legal technicality.

A panel of five judges ruled yesterday that the speaker of parliament acted illegally when she allowed a vote on the measure despite at least three objections that not enough MPs were in attendance.

“The speaker was obliged to ensure that there was quorum,” the court said in its ruling. “We come to the conclusion that she acted illegally.”

Warning

While celebrating the ruling, activists warned that homosexuality remains a criminal offence in the east African country. The fiercely controversial statute represented a dramatic toughening of the penalties. It banned the “promotion of homosexuality” and enabled life sentences to be imposed for various same-sex acts, including touching in public or living in a same-sex marriage.

Barack Obama described the legislation as “a step backward for all Ugandans” and several donors suspended aid, but defiant president Yoweri Museveni signed it into law last February, watched by cheering crowds. Asked about homosexuality on CNN, he said: “They’re disgusting. What sort of people are they? I never knew what they were doing. I’ve been told recently that what they do is terrible. Disgusting.”

Violation

The challenge to the law was brought by 10 petitioners, including academics, journalists, ruling and opposition MPs, human rights activists and rights groups. They claimed it violated the constitutional right to privacy and dignity, as well as the right to be free from discrimination and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Yesterday’s ruling was made before a courtroom packed with Ugandans opposing or supporting the measure. Activists erupted in loud cheers after the court ruled the law “null and void”.

Among those present was Frank Mugisha, director of Sexual Minorities Uganda. “We welcome this ruling and Uganda’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community can celebrate a small victory against oppression,” he said.

“However, we are disappointed that the case was not heard on its true merits. The truth is that, not only is the anti-homosexuality act persecutory, it is also unconstitutional and illegitimate. This law has no place in our society, which values dignity, privacy and equality for all our citizens. Until the Act has been dismissed on the substance of our arguments, we cannot rest easy.”

Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi, lawyer for the activists, said the ruling “upholds the rule of law and constitutionalism in Uganda”.

Homophobia is widespread in the socially conservative country, where American evangelical Christian groups have been accused of fuelling prejudice.

– (Guardian service)