Sexual rights in Uganda during the coronavirus pandemic

WHAT ARE SEXUAL RIGHTS?

Every person has the right to freely decide on matters related to their sexuality and be free from intimidation and violence in their sexual lives. Freedom from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). In history, laws and rights concerning sexuality were mostly determined by individual nation states. However, more recently, sexual rights have become the subject of international concern. The LGBT community is a community of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning individuals protected by discrimination in relation to their sexual orientation.

 

HOW ARE MEMBERS OF THE LGBT COMMUNITY TREATED IN UGANDA?

African countries have some of the most prohibitive laws in relation to homosexuality. Homosexuality is outlawed in 34 out of the 54 African counties recognized by the United Nations. In these countries individuals who engage in same-sex activities face punishments ranging from imprisonment to death. Uganda constitutes one of the most difficult countries in Africa to be a sexual minority as the rights of the members of the LGBT community are not respected. People who exhibit erotic and emotional attraction to members of the same sex in Uganda have been persecuted both by individuals and by the state. For example, same-sex marriage is prohibited by constitutional amendment. The LGBT community also faces a great deal of violence from the police as well as from other individuals. 

EXAMPLES OF DISCRIMINATION ON THE BASIS OF SEXUALITY IN UGANDA

Uganda faced widespread international condemnation back in 2014 when Museveni, Uganda’s former president, signed into law the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which initially introduced the death penalty for those who engage in same-sex sexual acts and have previous convictions or are HIV-positive. As a result ‘the United States reduced aid, imposed visa restrictions and cancelled military exercises’. Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands also suspended aid to Uganda. However, ultimately the law was not enforced as it was ruled unconstitutional by an Ugandan court. In October 2019 a minister announced plans to reintroduce the 2014 bill imposing the death penalty on homosexuals. The bill was known as “Kill the Gays” in Uganda and it was extremely derogatory. 

DISCRIMINATION FACED BY THE LGBT COMMUNITY IN UGANDA DURING THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC.

Frank Mugisha, the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) confirms that the LGBT community faces greater discrimination during the coronavirus era than before. For instance, in March 2020 ‘14 gay men, two bisexual men and four transgender women [in an Ugandan LGBT+ shelter on the outskirts of the capital Kampala] were taken into custody by police allegedly for disobeying the social distancing rules. They were captured and held in jail for 50 days. They were not allowed visits from their lawyers under the pretext of the coronavirus threat. The charges against them were withdrawn on May 18 2020. Patricia Kimera, a lawyer with the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, defended the group, pointing out that these individuals have been arrested due to their sexual orientation. Also in 2020, 16 LGBT activists who were at their home or at work were arrested by the police. 

It is important to advocate for LGBT rights in order to protect every person with a diverse sexual orientation. Persecuting people due to their sexual orientation violates their fundamental rights as it denies them the opportunity to enjoy their full personhood. 

MARIETTA KOSMA

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