Gay and lesbian people in Uganda are constantly caught up in the crosshairs of a brutal police force, a conservative culture and unforgiving laws, a study by the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) reveals.
In the end, many suspected gays and lesbian people are banished from villages, disowned by families and subjected to dehumanizing treatment by law enforcement agencies.
The study, titled A critique of the enforcement of the laws criminalizing same-sex conduct in Uganda, was carried out in October 2013. Its findings were made public on January 15.
The findings come a month after Parliament passed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The bill, which awaits the presidential assent, has drawn mixed reactions.
It has been welcomed by some people who say homosexuality is an affront on African values and morals. Human rights activists, on the other hand, say the bill infringes on the individual rights of gays.
The bill stipulates life imprisonment to persons convicted of engaging in same-sex relationships or sexual intercourse. The lead researcher, Adrian Jjuuko, who is also the executive director of HRAPF, said implementation of the law would require the state to violate the basic rights of equality, dignity and privacy.
“Enforcement of the law amounts to persecution of LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender and Intersex) persons since the law is practically impossible to implement,” Jjuuko said.
The study found that a wide array of laws exist to criminalise same- sex conduct in Uganda, among them is section 145(a) of the Penal Code Act which criminalises ‘carnal knowledge against the order of nature’ and provides the punishment of life imprisonment for anyone convicted of the offence. Others are section 146 on attempts to commit carnal knowledge against the order of nature, and Section 148 on indecent practices.
According to the report, police normally arrest people on suspicion that they are engaged in same- sex relationships without thorough investigation. The report says most of the arrests are done basing on the external appearance of the person or following a tip-off by a third party.
But the tip-offs, in many cases, are usually from people who have scores to settle, or want to injure the character of some people.
“Such persons provide anonymous tips to the police. Without additional investigation, the police arrest the suspected persons. Because of the anonymity of the tip- offs, there is usually no complainant,” the study notes.
Many of the charges on same-sex relationships, the study notes, are normally sanctioned by state attorneys despite the fact that the record on file is scanty.
“The study found that over the period 2007-2011, there is neither a single conviction nor an acquittal for consensual same-sex conduct on file in any magistrate’s court in Kampala,” notes the report.
In addition, most legal aid service providers in Uganda do not offer legal aid to LGBTI persons. The research revealed only two organizations in Uganda that offer legal aid services to these groups: HRAPF which operates a specialized legal aid clinic for LGBTI persons and the Refugee Law Project of the school of Law, Makerere University, which extends free legal services to refugees including LGBTI refugees.
The study faults the media, specifically the newspapers, for being ‘insensitive’ in their reporting about gay-related issues.
“Newspapers rarely consider the damage they do to suspects. They tend to publish details and pictures of suspects. The newspapers rarely consider the privacy of suspects and tend to publish full-colour pictures of suspects before the suspects are convicted of such cases,” the report notes.
The study recommends that the attorney general, as the legal advisor of the government on the constitutionality and legality of various laws, should a dvise the executive, parliament and the judiciary as to the illegality and non-constitutionality of the actions being undertaken in the name of implementing laws that criminalise consensual same-sex conduct among adults.
It also calls upon the police to make a professional decision not to arrest persons suspected of having consensual adult same-sex relations.