IBA Human Rights Institute condemns Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act

Leading human rights body joins US president and others in criticising harsh new law that could see people face death penalty for consensual same-sex acts


The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, chaired by former Swedish Bar Association secretary-general, Anne Ramberg, and London’s Mark Stephens CBE, of Howard Kennedy, has strongly criticised new Ugandan legislation that could result in long prison sentences or even the death penalty for consensual same-sex acts between adults.

The Anti-Homosexuality Act, which Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed into law on 26 May, was condemned by US President Joe Biden as “a tragic violation of universal human rights … not worthy of the Ugandan people”.

He called for the legislation’s immediate repeal, adding: “No one should have to live in constant fear for their life or being subjected to violence and discrimination. It is wrong.” 

Biden’s criticism was echoed by UN secretary-general António Guterres, who said he was deeply concerned by the promulgation of the Act.

Ramberg and Stephens said the Act would have “disastrous effects on the fundamental rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (or queer) and intersex plus (LGBTQI+) persons and their communities in Uganda,” citing effects on human rights to life, privacy, equality and non-discrimination.

They added: “The Act represents an unacceptable intrusion into the private lives of consenting adults,” but reserved their strongest criticism for retaining the death penalty for the serial offence of ‘aggravated homosexuality’.

“International law is emphatic that the death penalty, to the extent it is permitted, may only be imposed for the most serious crimes involving intentional killing,” they said, highlighting the concerns of the UN Human Rights Committee about the Act.

The Human Rights Institute also highlighted section 11 of the Act, a vaguely worded offence relating to ‘promotion of homosexuality’ that carries a potential sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment and was criticised for its chilling effect on freedom of expression.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) added its call for the Act to be repealed, with ICJ Africa Director Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh saying it was “profoundly concerned by the increasing crackdown on the human rights of LGBTI persons in Uganda”.

“[The Act] not only violates their human rights, but also threatens to stifle the vital work of human rights defenders advocating for the human rights of LGBTI people by impeding their ability to effectively engage in human rights advocacy,” she added. 

Two petitions challenging the Act have been filed before the Constitutional Court of Uganda on the grounds it breaches Uganda’s human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other treaties.

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association added that the new legislation ignored Uganda’s duty to “reinforce mutual respect and tolerance” – an obligation under the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights, ratified almost 40 years ago.

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