Uganda’s president has signed into law a bill that imposes the death penalty for certain homosexual acts. It has been called one of the most extreme anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the world and has drawn international condemnation.
On Monday, President Yoweri Museveni signed the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, which was passed by the Ugandan parliament in March. All but two of the Christian-majority nation’s 389 MPs voted for the bill.
Western evangelical groups have spent millions promoting anti-LGBTQ+ ideas in Uganda.
While homosexual sex was already punishable by life imprisonment in Uganda under the country’s colonial-era penal code, the new law imposes a life sentence for “recruitment, promotion and funding” of same-sex “activities” and even bans identifying as LGBTQ+.
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It makes what the law describes as acts of “aggravated homosexuality” punishable by the death penalty. As Politico notes, the law defines “aggravated homosexuality” as same-sex relations involving HIV-positive people, children, or other vulnerable people.
President Joe Biden called for the law to be immediately repealed.
“The enactment of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act is a tragic violation of universal human rights — one that is not worthy of the Ugandan people, and one that jeopardizes the prospects of critical economic growth for the entire country,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House on Monday.
Noting that reports of violence and discrimination against Ugandans perceived to be LGBTQ+ have risen since the bill was introduced, Biden said that he has directed his National Security Council to “evaluate the implications of this law on all aspects of U.S. engagement with Uganda, including our ability to safely deliver services under the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and other forms of assistance and investments.”
Biden said that his administration would also incorporate the impacts of the law into its review of the East African nation’s eligibility for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and that it was considering applying “sanctions and restriction of entry into the United States against anyone involved in serious human rights abuses or corruption.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken also released a statement Monday saying that the State Department would “develop mechanisms to support the rights of LGBTQI+ individuals in Uganda and to promote accountability for Ugandan officials and other individuals responsible for, or complicit in, abusing their human rights.”
“I have also directed the Department to update our travel guidance to American citizens and to U.S. businesses as well as to consider deploying existing visa restrictions tools against Ugandan officials and other individuals for abuse of universal human rights, including the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons,” Blinken said.
A United Nations statement called the law “a recipe for systematic violations of the rights of LGBT people and the wider population.”
“It conflicts with the constitution and international treaties and requires urgent judicial review,” the statement read.
In a joint statement, the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, UNAids, and PEPFAR said that the law jeopardizes progress in fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Uganda.
“The stigma and discrimination associated with the passage of the act has already led to reduced access to prevention as well as treatment services. Trust, confidentiality and stigma-free engagement are essential for anyone seeking health care,” the statement read. “LGBTQI+ people in Uganda increasingly fear for their safety and security, and people are being discouraged from seeking vital health services for fear of attack, punishment and further marginalization.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) also condemned the law as “horrific & wrong.”
“Any law criminalizing homosexuality or imposing the death penalty for ‘aggravated homosexuality’ is grotesque & an abomination. ALL civilized nations should join together in condemning this human rights abuse,” Cruz tweeted on Monday. The post led to criticism from both the right and the left, with liberals accusing the anti-LGBTQ+ Republican of hypocrisy and conservatives expressing dismay that he seemed to be aligning himself with LGBTQ+ rights, the U.K.’s Independent reports.
Meanwhile, Kampala-based human rights activist Steven Kabuye told The Guardian that LGBTQ+ activists in Uganda plan to fight the law. “Of course, we are going to march to court and contest this draconian law in every way possible,” he said.
A previous version of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, introduced in 2009, was struck down by Uganda’s Constitutional Court in 2014 on procedural grounds.