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Ugandan Court Upholds Anti-LGBTQ Law With Rights Concerns

Uganda’s constitutional court declined on Wednesday to invalidate or halt an anti-LGBTQ law that includes the death penalty for certain same-sex acts. However, it did strike down some provisions that it deemed inconsistent with certain fundamental human rights.

The law, passed in May last year, is one of the world’s toughest anti-gay laws and has faced criticism from human rights activists as well as sanctions from Western nations.

According to activists, the law has led to widespread abuse against LGBTQ individuals, including torture, rape, arrest, and eviction.

“We decline to nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 in its entirety, nor will we grant a permanent injunction against its enforcement,” said lead judge Richard Buteera, reading the judgment on behalf of his four colleagues.

However, the court invalidated certain sections it found to be “inconsistent with the right to health, privacy, and freedom of religion.”

The sections of the act that were struck down criminalized the letting of premises for homosexual acts and failure to report homosexual acts.

Under the Anti-Homosexuality Act, citizens were obligated to report anyone suspected of engaging in homosexuality, a requirement the court found to violate individual rights.

“The government will now have to remove these sections from the law,” Edward Ssemambo, a human rights lawyer representing the petitioners, told Reuters.

Upon the law’s enactment in May 2023, the World Bank suspended new lending to Uganda, and the United States imposed visa and travel restrictions against Ugandan officials.

The law imposes penalties of up to life imprisonment for consensual same-sex relations and makes “aggravated homosexuality” punishable by death. It also prohibits the promotion of homosexuality, with violations punishable by up to 20 years in jail.

Petitioners against the law, including a lawmaker and Frank Mugisha, Uganda’s most prominent LGBTQ activist, sought to have the law struck down, citing violations of their constitutional rights.

“The judges are supposed to protect vulnerable groups, but they have rather sided with majority Ugandans to punish minority groups,” Mugisha told Reuters.

The petitioners intend to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, he said.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, stated that nearly 600 people have reportedly faced human rights violations and abuses based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity since the law was enacted in May last year.

“It must be repealed in its entirety, or unfortunately, this number will only rise,” Türk said in a statement.

The ruling comes amid a broader anti-gay crackdown across Africa, with Ghana passing stringent anti-gay legislation in February, further restricting the rights of LGBTQ individuals.

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