Ugandan lawmaker’s ‘Sexual Offences Bill’ was approved by parliament on the 3rd of May, in what feminist activist Trisha Mugerwa has labelled; “one step forward, and two steps backwards.” The bill was first introduced in 2014 as an effort to address sexual violence and to combat issues present in the already established Penal Code. However, human rights advocates have conveyed their concerns with the newly passed bill’s challenges for the LGBTQ community, which leaves them vulnerable and in danger.
Efforts to reform failures of The Penal Code Act in addressing sexual violence has resulted in changes to laws that further criminalise members of the LGBTQ community, making any sexual act between persons of the same gender punishable with up to 10 years in prison.
The types of sexual offences listed in this newly approved bill are acts such as rape, sexual harassment, sexual offences by children, supply of sexual content to children, marriage involving children, and unnatural offences. These new laws reportedly could result in life imprisonment for some offenders. Under Clause Eleven of The Sexual Offences Bill, the term ‘unnatural offences’ describes actions of sexual acts between two members of the same sex, as well as further criminalising people who identity as gay, bisexual or transgender.
African Director of Human Rights Watch; Mausi Segun, has reported his disappointment and concern with the bill, stating that “Ugandan lawmakers should focus on ending endemic sexual violence rather than seeing this as an opportunity to imbed abusive provisions that criminalise the sex lives of consenting adults.” Human Rights Watch has addressed the positives that have come out of this bill, which provide provisions to address sexual violence in Uganda, as well as further criminalising sexual harassment. However, the changes have also left gaping loop holes in the Ugandan legal system which fail to protect vulnerable members of society.
Amnesty International has reported that gay and transgender victims of sexual violence have been left fearing for their lives, being too afraid to file police reports on their abusers, afraid that they would also be arrested. UNAIDS has also detailed their concern for the lives of the LGBTQ community following the adoption of The Sexual Offences Bill. Executive Director of UNAIDS, Winnie Byanyima, stated that he was “deeply troubled” with the decision to pass this bill. UNAIDS is concerned about the vulnerability of gay men and other men to receive adequate care, treatment and prevention for HIV.
Monicah Amoding, the Ugandan MP who proposed the bill, has defended backlash from international and regional human rights advocates stating that Uganda is not yet ready for homosexual rights, and that in her belief, Ugandan society still holds the value of relationships, sex and marriage, as only between a man and a woman. Many churches have also welcomed the bill, pastor Wilson Sewanyana stating that the bill was meant to contest against homosexuality; helping to “fight the devil”.
Human Rights Watch is hopeful that the bill will not be signed into legislation. Segun has stated that “president Museveni should reject the bill and instruct parliament to present a revised bill that takes a proper rights respecting approach to addressing sexual violence, so that survivors and the general public can reap the benefits.” Human rights advocates in Uganda as well as internationally, are anticipating lawmakers to make revisions to The Sexual Offences Bill, so that it ensures the protection of all citizens, including members of the LGBTQ community.