Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act was struck down Friday by a panel of five judges who ruled that the speaker of parliament violated procedure by allowing a vote on the bill without a quorum of one-third of the members of parliament present. The court’s ruling affirmed the view of legal scholars and opposition activists that the Anti-Homosexuality Act was invalid on procedural grounds. Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act was enacted in February 2014, calling for life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality,” defined as a homosexual act where one of the partners is infected with HIV, sex with minors or the disabled, and as repeated sexual offenses among consenting adults, and includes a provision which makes conducting a same-sex marriage ceremony punishable by seven years in prison.
“The speaker was obliged to ensure that there was a quorum,” the court said in its ruling. “We come to the conclusion that she acted illegally.”
“A ruling at this level represents an historic moment in the fight for the rights of LGBT people in Uganda, and we hope it will serve as an example for other countries in Africa and worldwide,” said Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord. “We are deeply impressed with the hard work and dedication of our Ugandan colleagues who put their own lives at risk to seek justice for all. As the law is invalidated, we urge the Obama Administration to stay in close contact with the Ugandan government and civil society leaders to develop a plan for rolling back the sanctions it recently imposed as appropriate.”
According to a report issued by Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), incidents of violence against LGBT people and reports of Ugandans fleeing the country have increased significantly since the passage of this law. In the first four months since the bill was passed by Ugandan Parliament, 162 cases of violence and discrimination were documented within the country.
The AP reported:
Activists erupted in cheers after the court ruled the law “null and void,” but some cautioned that the fight was not over: The state could appeal the ruling in the Supreme Court and legislators might try to reintroduce new anti-gay measures.
The law provided jail terms up to life for those convicted of engaging in gay sex. It also allowed lengthy jail terms for those convicted of the offenses of “attempted homosexuality” as well as “promotion of homosexuality.”
Although the legislation has wide support in Uganda, it has been condemned in the West and rights groups have described it as draconian.
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission’s (IGLHRC) Executive Director Jessica Stern said, “The Ugandan Constitutional Court has overturned a dreadful law that raised the level of violence and discrimination against LGBT people and virtually criminalized human rights activism. It is now up to the government to aggressively ensure that all government agencies are informed that the law is no longer in force and ensure that all services – especially those involving health and safety – are provided without equivocation to LGBT people. This was a horrific law, and any remnants of its impact must be purged from Uganda.”
Stern added, “Today’s sudden and welcome legal ruling gives the Ugandan government a lifeline to a new era. I hope that the authorities will use the ruling to move in a new tolerant direction based on human rights.”
Nicholas Opiyo, a Ugandan lawyer who was among the petitioners, welcomed the ruling but said there is a missed opportunity to debate the substance of the law. “The ideal situation would have been to deal with the other issues of the law, to sort out this thing once and for all,” Opiyo said.
Kosiya Kasibayo, a state attorney, said a decision had not been made on whether to appeal the ruling in the Supreme Court, Uganda’s highest court.