A U.N. watchdog committee condemned Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act Wednesday and called on the government to repeal what it calls a harmful, discriminatory law, which criminalizes consenting sexual relations between adults of the same sex.
“We are as appalled as you are as to the content and the effects of this law,” said Jose Santos Pais, vice chair of the U.N. Human Rights Committee.
The 18-member committee, which monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, issued findings of its latest four-week examination of Uganda and six other state parties to the convention.
In its final observations, the committee expressed “deep concern about discrimination and persecution based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” including the enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act in May 2023.
The committee said it has received reports of hate speech, outings and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, “as well as reports of arbitrary arrests of LGBTI persons” based on the Penal Code Act and the Anti-Homosexuality Act.
Pais said the committee told the Ugandan delegation that it must address the discriminatory policies.
“And, particularly, to repeal the Anti-Homosexuality Act and section 145 of the penal code to end the criminalization of consensual sexual relations between adults of the same sex,” he said, adding that this act “forces, for instance, the death penalty for serial homosexuality.”
The last time the committee reviewed Uganda’s human rights record was in 2004. After the inordinately long 19-year delay, Uganda appeared before the committee with a high-powered, 15-person delegation of government officials to present its case.
Pais said the Ugandan delegation sought to justify the Anti-Homosexuality Act based on what it described as the cultural values and position of most Ugandans toward homosexuality, which it claimed was “unacceptance of same-sex relationships.”
“If I recall correctly, they particularly stressed that this was a decision of the legitimate authorities of Uganda,” said Pais. “And so, they have taken their stand. They will bear the responsibility for that.
“We are not convinced by these arguments, of course,” he added. “But that is how it goes.”
Among its recommendations, the committee called on the Ugandan government to amend the Equal Opportunities Commission Act to prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for discrimination.
The 18 human rights experts urged the government to address discriminatory attitudes and stigma toward LGBTQ persons among government officials and the public “through comprehensive awareness-raising and sensitization activities” and to ensure remedies for LGBTQ persons “who are subjected to discrimination, hate speech, violence or arbitrary arrest.”
Western medical and psychiatric associations regard sexual orientation as innate and part of normal human diversity. LGBTQ rights defenders say the proportion of sexual minorities remains constant from country to country — including those with punitive laws.
The committee’s next “constructive dialogue” with Uganda will take place in 2031 in Geneva. Pais said that during the interim the committee would keep tabs on what the Ugandan government was doing to end its discriminatory policies.
“We have a follow-up procedure,” he said. “The fact that we highlight three main concerns for each state-party means that in four years’ time, we will get back to the country to ask what they have been doing regarding these particular recommendations.
“So, the state-party will have to provide its answers … and then we prepare a report, which is made public, and in which we assess gradings for the intervention of the state parties on the recommendations that we have issued.
“And if by any chance in four years’ time the state-party has not repealed the law, most probably the grade that they receive from us will be a very nasty one,” he said.