While South Africans commemorated Human Rights Day on 21 March 2023, Uganda’s legislature, on the same day, enacted one of the world’s harshest anti-gay policies. The Bill calls for life imprisonment for individuals that partake in same-sex conduct and ten years’ imprisonment for an attempt at same-sex conduct. The Bill further mandates that anyone guilty of aggravated homosexuality be subject to the death penalty.
More than the current socioeconomic and political situation confronting South Africa, such as rolling blackouts, rising inflation, increased debt and a captured state, the heinous enactment of the anti-gay Bill by the Ugandan parliament gives South Africans even more reason to be dismayed this Human Rights Day. The crisis facing Uganda’s sexual minorities serves as a perfect opportunity for South Africans to reflect on how far we have come and still need to go in protecting the rights of sexual minorities in South Africa and beyond. It should also encourage South Africa to enhance its protection of sexual minorities so that it can continue to set an example for its fellow African countries.
Ironically, Uganda is a signatory toba few international human rights treaties that require states to respect, preserve and fulfil the fundamental human rights of all individuals to life, dignity, equality and freedom from discrimination; namely, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). They both aspire to secure the enjoyment of fundamental human rights for all people without discrimination. In addition, Uganda is also a signatory of the Yogyakarta Principles. These principles are a declaration that integrates all rights granted to sexual minorities in numerous international treaties into a single text. It claims that sexual minorities have the same fundamental human rights as everyone else, including the right to privacy, dignity and equality.
In essence, Uganda is a party to treaties that have consistently stated that legislations such as the Penal Code Act, which promotes sodomy law, are in conflict with such international treaty agendas and must be repealed. However, despite these pronouncements, Uganda still retains their Penal Code Act. The enactment of this Bill comes as no surprise as Uganda is infamously known for its anti-LBGTQI+ attitudes. This is evident as, prior to the enactment of the Bill, Uganda had and kept the Penal Code Act of 1950 mentioned above. This act criminalises same-sex acts between consenting adults in private. Furthermore, it punishes persons who engage in such acts with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Not satisfied with the status quo, the now enacted Bill was proposed by Mr David Bahati, who envisaged punishment by way