Ugandans file challenge against anti-gay law in court

Petitioners say measure violates fundamental rights

Ten petitioners have filed a constitutional challenge against Uganda’s anti-gay law, saying it violates fundamental rights and noting that there was a lack of quorum in parliament at the time of the measure’s passage.

Gay rights activist Frank Mugisha; founder of Freedom & Roam Uganda, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera; transgender activist Pepe Julian Onziema; advocacy group Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG); MP Fox Odoi; and former leader of the opposition Morris Ogenga Latigo are among the petitioners.

The petition, filed in the Constitutional Court of Uganda in Kampala, says the Anti-Homosexuality Act, “in defining and criminalising consensual same sex/gender sexual activity among adults in private, [is] in contravention of the right to equality before the law without any discrimination and the right to privacy” guaranteed under the Ugandan constitution.

It also states that the anti-gay law’s criminalization of “touching by persons of the same sex” creates an offence that is “overly broad” and that also violates the constitution.

The petition adds that the act, “in imposing a maximum life sentence for homosexuality, provides for a disproportionate punishment for the offence in contravention of the right to equality and freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment” also guaranteed under the constitution.

The act also violates the constitution by “criminalising consensual same sex/gender sexual activity among adults in which one is a person living with HIV,” by “subjecting persons charged with aggravated homosexuality to a compulsory HIV test” and by “classifying houses or rooms as brothels merely on the basis ofoccupation by homosexuals,” among other claims.

The petitioners also say that the spirit of the Anti-Homosexuality Act promotes and encourages homophobia, thereby fostering “institutionalised promotion of a culture of hatred and constitutes a contravention of the right to dignity.”

Read the petition in its entirety.

A hearing date must now be set, but the case could take years to reach final resolution.

After President Yoweri Museveni gave assent to the measure, a number of European countries announced they were withdrawing or rerouting aid to the country, while the World Bank has withheld a multimillion-dollar loan pending review.

French telecommunications company Orange also indicated it is not renewing its advertising contract with the Ugandan Red Pepper newspaper, which is infamous for outing people who are gay or believed to be gay.

Natasha Barsotti is originally from Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean. She had high aspirations of representing her country in Olympic Games sprint events, but after a while the firing of the starting gun proved too much for her nerves. So she went off to university instead. Her first professional love has always been journalism. After pursuing a Master of Journalism at UBC , she began freelancing at Xtra West — now Xtra Vancouver — in 2006, becoming a full-time reporter there in 2008.

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