The Parliament of Uganda has passed a new anti-gay bill that tightens the country’s existing ban on sex between people of the same sex.
The Sexual Offenses Bill was approved by lawmakers on Monday with the seemingly laudable intention of the “effectual prevention of sexual violence”. It addresses issues such as rape and child sex trafficking.
However, the bill also criminalises same-sex sexual acts that are already illegal under the country’s colonial-era penal code which describes these as “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature”.
The new legislation goes further by defining what is meant by “carnal knowledge against the order of nature”. Clause 11 of the bill explicitly outlaws “The penetration of another person’s anus with [a] sexual organ or with any object” and “a sexual act between persons of the same gender.”
It’s not yet clear if the bill provides for new penalities for these acts, which currently include life in prison.
Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) said in a statement that the bill has the effect of “criminalising the private lives of adult and consenting same-sex loving persons.”
It expressed its concern that the anti-gay clause “will enhance the already homophobic environment in Uganda and consequently lead the way for further violation of the rights of sexual and gender minorities, including violations such as ‘corrective rape’ and other acts of violence.”
The organisation added: “It is deeply offensive, hurtful, dangerous for a Parliament that represents ‘all Ugandans’ to categorise our community as criminals under a law titled ‘Sexual Offences Bill’.”
SMUG called on President Yoweri Museveni to not sign the bill “because of the problematic clause 11 that now classifies sexual and gender minorities as sexual offenders.”
Ugandan lawmakers are notoriously obsessed with homosexuality. In 2014, the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Act was made law but the Constitutional Court of Uganda soon after invalidated it on procedural grounds. Bigoted MPs have ever since repeatedly threatened to pass new anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
Another alarming element in the new Sexual Offenses Bill is the criminalisation of sex workers with a sentence of up to seven years in prison. HIV positive people who are found guilty of rape will also be punished for “aggravated rape” and will face the death penalty.
The Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) said that “Singling out HIV and AIDS as a factor for aggravated penalty for rape, discriminates against people living with HIV. This provision undermines the efforts to eliminate the stigma that surrounds people living with HIV and AIDS.”
The organisation added that “Criminalising sex work will drive sex workers under cover and fuels stigma. Stigma will hinder sex workers from accessing the health services including HIV prevention tools such as PrEP, condoms, treatment as prevention among others.”