1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Uproar after Uganda enacts anti-gay law

Isaac Kaledzi | Frank Yiga in Kampala
May 30, 2023

Human rights activists are seeking a review of Uganda's anti-homosexuality law signed by President Yoweri Museveni. The law, one of the harshest in the world, has already sent members of the LGBTQ community into hiding.

A gay Ugandan man holds a pride flag
Members of Uganda's LGBTQ community say they are not safe anymoreImage: uncredited/AP/picture-alliance

Uganda's latest anti-Homosexuality law is one of the world's most brutal legislations that seeks to restrict homosexual rights in Uganda and punish offenders.

When lawmakers initially passed the bill in March, President Museveni had it sent back to parliament, asking for some of its provisions to be toned down. But on Monday, the 78-year-old leader signed the revised bill into law.

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has often argued that homosexuality is a foreign conceptImage: ABUBAKER LUBOWA/REUTERS

Fears for Uganda's LGBTQ community 

Members of Uganda's LGBTQ community are going into hiding. One who chose to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal urged the international community and human rights organizations to intervene to protect people like him.

"Is it a crime to embrace my identity? I am even scared for my life like a refugee. Why are they even criminalizing this [homosexuality]? This is who I am. I am scared for my life, and I am scared for my friends. I am scared for my family. We are really scared," he told DW.

Another lesbian, a bartender in the capital Kampala is equally in panic. She says everyone has ganged up against their rights.

She told DW that the death penalty, life imprisonment, and hefty fines have changed her life.

"They are going to look for us, they will kidnap us so we might go in for life imprisonment. That is why you are seeing everyone not talking. They are quiet, they are very annoyed, we are not safe not at all. We are now just going to ask for asylum and leave the county because now it seems like everyone is against us. If the president has signed we have to look for asylum in countries which will allow us," she said.

Uganda passes world's strictest anti-LGBTQ bill

Homophobia in Uganda

Museveni's approval of the bill was expected considering his anti-LGBTQ stance and comments about homosexuality in the past.

Same-sex relations have always been illegal in Uganda, but the country's lawmakers decided to tighten the laws this year.

German lawmakers on Tuesday described Uganda's move as an international scandal that violates human rights. They have demanded that the East African nation immediately repeal the law.

In a joint statement, Max Lucks, Chairman of the Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid, and Ulle Schauws, Spokesperson for Queer Policy, called for "a united EU response."

Activists protest outside the Ugandan Embassy in Washington over the anti-gay law
Rights activist say the anti-gay law infringes on the right to dignityImage: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Schengen visa ban 

The German politicians want Ugandan lawmakers who introduced the bill and representatives of NGOs who lobbied for it, to be banned from entering the Schengen zone. They also demanded that Europe consider freezing their foreign accounts.

"This must have consequences, including for development aid," Renata Alt, a German parliamentarian from the Free Democratic Party (FDP), said. "The international community must take a clear position. Homosexuality is not a crime! Love is love. Activists who have campaigned for LGBTI rights in Uganda and members of the LGBTI community must be protected."

The European Union, in a statement, said it regrets the signing into law of the Anti-Homosexuality Act by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

It said the "law is contrary to international human rights law and to Uganda's obligations under the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, including commitments on dignity and non-discrimination, and the prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment."

It added that the EU "will continue to engage with the Ugandan authorities and civil society to ensure that all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity, are treated equally, with dignity and respect." 

Attack on human rights

Germany's Development Minister Svenja Schulze said in a statement that "the law has an impact on the work of international partners on the ground, which we must now examine together." She said she needed to listen to the voices of Ugandan civil society. "We will continue to exchange ideas with those affected and continue to work together to promote human rights and inclusive development."

Frank Schwabe of Germany's ruling Social Democratic Party (SDP) condemned the Ugandan anti-gay law as "a terrible attack on human rights." 

He warned that Uganda is abandoning the shared values of the international community and those of the African Union. "The country [Uganda] is putting itself on the sidelines and will certainly also feel the economic effects. The law must be repealed immediately," Schwabe said.

Activists hold placards during their picket against Uganda's anti-homosexuality bill at the Ugandan High Commission in Pretoria, South Africa.
The anti-Homosexuality law in Uganda is one of the world's harshestImage: Themba Hadebe/AP/picture alliance

US threatens sanctions

United States President Joe Biden has also described the law as "a tragic violation" of human rights. He said Washington would evaluate the implications of the law "on all aspects of US engagement with Uganda."

"We are considering additional steps, including the application of sanctions and restriction of entry into the United States against anyone involved in serious human rights abuses or corruption," Biden said.

In a joint statement, the US-funded HIV/AIDS program PEPFAR, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said the law put Uganda's anti-HIV fight "in grave jeopardy."

Are African LGBTQ rights improving?

Call for legal review

Persons who also promote homosexuality risk spending a 20-years sentence in jail under the new law.

A transgender and LGBTQ activist who also wanted to remain anonymous told DW that her plans to promote equal rights and opportunities had been trampled upon.

"Every day is a day of how am I going to help my community? Every day is a day of how am I going to deal with that transphobia from my family, my friends, society and even the government that is supposed to protect me as a human being," she said.

There is massive support for the law in Uganda, especially among clerics who have praised President Museveni for signing the anti-LGBTQ bill into law.

But human rights activists have petitioned the constitutional court to challenge the severe penalties against same-sex practice.

Adrian Ddungu, one of the activists, told DW that many sections of the law violate the right to dignity.

"The act was passed without adequate and meaningful public participation so when they are making laws the public has to be really involved more especially the people who are concerned but not even a single LGBTQ person was basically before the committee to have their views heard," he said.

In 2014, the constitutional court of Uganda quashed the act on procedural grounds.

The court ruled that the parliament passed the bill without the required quorum. This time again, human rights activists hope for a fair hearing during their petition to challenge the anti-gay law.

Edited by: Chrispin Mwakideu