August 2023 | Uganda charges two men with new ‘aggravated homosexuality’ offence
In August, the office of the Director of Public Prosecution revealed that it had charged two men with the capital offence of ‘aggravated homosexuality’, the first such charges since the enactment in May 2023 of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, the legislation that introduced the offence. Aggravated homosexuality is committed where same-sex relations occur in a select list of ‘aggravating’ circumstances, including where they involve a minor (as is alleged in one of the cases) or a disabled person (as is alleged in the other). Uganda has not executed anyone since 2005, with those charged with capital offences usually receiving life sentences. However, the enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act has raised fears amongst the LGBTQIA+ community and its advocates of a resumption of state executions. Several people were also arrested in August for lesser offences under the Act and evictions and harassment and violence against LGBTQIA+ persons is reported to have risen in recent months.
June 2023 | At least 42 people killed in school terrorist attack
On 16 June, a terrorist attack carried out against a school in Mpondwe, a town in western Uganda, left at least 42 people dead, 37 of which were students. A further six students were abducted. Uganda’s President blamed the attack on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamist rebel group established in Uganda in the 1990s but now based in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). ADF attacks in Uganda are rare. In 2021, the group carried out a series of bombings in the country’s capital Kampala, which killed three people. According to local experts, communities living in western Uganda are particularly vulnerable to assaults and recruitment by militant groups due to the unregulated movement of people and goods across the border with the DRC and high unemployment rates. Previous ADF attacks have led to increased discrimination against Uganda’s Muslim communities and Muslims in Mpondwe were reported to be fearful of retaliation.
Sources: Daily Monitor, Al Jazeera, Ugandan Police Force, President Yoweri Museveni, Institute for Security Studies
May 2023 | Museveni signs law further restricting LGBTQIA+ rights
On 26 May, President Yoweri Museveni signed into law the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, a piece of legislation that further restricts the already severely constrained rights of LGBTQIA+ people in Uganda. The law, which was initially passed by Parliament on 21 March 2023 before being returned to legislators by Museveni for reconsideration, was left largely unamended when passed a second time on 2 May 2023. It still criminalises the ‘promotion of homosexuality’, meaning that anyone who advocates for LGBTQIA+ rights or finances such advocacy could face a prison sentence of up to 20 years. It also continues to prescribe the death penalty for the crime of ‘aggravated homosexuality’ (where same-sex relations are carried out in one of a select list of ‘aggravating’ circumstances, e.g. where the offender is a ‘serial offender’ or the victim is under 18). However, on the recommendation of Museveni, the law no longer criminalises identifying as an LGBTQIA+ person.
April 2023 | Museveni rejects Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has refused to sign into law a controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which was returned to Uganda’s parliament for amendment on 20 April. In a letter to Parliament explaining his reasons for returning the Bill, Museveni argued that the law should distinguish between homosexual acts and the promotion of homosexuality (which it should criminalise) and identifying as a homosexual (which it should not criminalise). He also requested that the Bill include a clause providing amnesty and ‘rehabilitation’ for ‘those who have previously been involved in acts of homosexuality’. Commentators have interpreted the letter as an attempt by the President to tone down the legislation, which has been heavily criticised by the international community. In its current form, the Bill would expand the restrictions on the civil liberties of LGBTQIA+ persons and the ability of civil society organisations to work on LGBTQIA+ issues.