Uganda court upholds law allowing death penalty in cases of aggravated homosexuality

Uganda’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday upheld a law that allows the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.”

President Yoweri Museveni signed the bill into law in May last year. The law is supported by many in the East African country but widely condemned by rights activists and others abroad.

Activists had contested the law in court, but the judges declined to overturn it in their ruling, saying it was legally passed by parliament and does not violate the constitution.

“We decline to nullify the Anti Homosexuality Act 2023 in its entirety; neither would we grant a permanent injunction against enforcement,” Deputy Chief Justice Richard Buteera said.

The court, however, ruled that members of the gay community should not be discriminated against when seeking medication.

“They should be medically and culturally accepted,” Buteera said.

The petitioners, led by lawyer Nicholas Opiyo, had given 14 grounds for its dismissal.

One of the petitioners, Andrew Mwenda, said they would appeal to the Supreme Court.

“What we have witnessed in court is what I would call a temporary reversal in an overall strategic battle or a strategic war against cultural bigotry and prejudice, so we are going to appeal to the Supreme Court not for striking down the different components of this law but for overturning this law into its entirety,” he said.

The law defines “aggravated homosexuality” as cases of homosexual relations involving a minor and other categories of vulnerable people, or when the perpetrator is infected with HIV. A suspect convicted of “attempted aggravated homosexuality” can be imprisoned for up to 14 years, and the offense of “attempted homosexuality” is punishable by up to 10 years.

Homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda under a colonial-era law criminalizing sexual activity “against the order of nature.” The punishment for that offense is life imprisonment.

expressed deep concern when the new law was passed, with the U.N. Human Rights Office calling it “a recipe for systematic violations of the rights” of LGBTQ+ people and others.

U.S. President Joe Biden called the law “a tragic violation of universal human rights — one that is not worthy of the Ugandan people, and one that jeopardizes the prospects of critical economic growth for the entire country.”

The World Bank halted new loans to Uganda, saying additional measures were necessary to ensure projects align with the bank’s environmental and social standards.

Homosexuality is criminalized in more than 30 54 countries. Some Africans see it as behavior imported from abroad and not a sexual orientation.