Govt has 10 days to defend controversial ant-gay law in court

In this file photo taken on March 21, 2023 a Ugandan transgender woman who was recently attacked and currently being sheltered watches a TV screen showing the live broadcast of the session from the Parliament for the anti-gay bill, at a local charity supporting the LGBTQ Community near Kampala. PHOTO/AFP

Activists who filed petitions in the Constitutional Court against the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 say they have already served the Attorney General who has 10 days after service to defend the controversial law.

On June 1, the Attorney General was served with Constitutional Petition Number 014 of 2023. The implementation of the Anti-Homosexuality Act has brought significant attention to Uganda, with the US government and its European allies criticizing the country and pledging to take actions, including imposing sanctions. President Museveni, who approved the law, has expressed support for Parliament's decision and has urged the Ugandan people to stand firm.

The Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023 has since come into effect and was officially published in the Uganda Gazette Volume CXVI No. 36 on May 30. However, in an attempt to halt or prevent the implementation of the law, two legal teams say they are filing applications in court for temporary injunctions.

These applications, the activists say, will be backed by evidence showing a growing number of violations against the constitutional rights of both actual and perceived LGBTIQ+ individuals. The call is being made by the Coalition for Equality (CFE) for more individuals and organizations to challenge this oppressive law using all lawful means available to them.

“I am a petitioner in constitutional petition No 14 of 2023. As LGBTQ human rights advocate I’m supportive of both of petitions. What is in issue here is not the number of the petitions but the rights, ignominy and plight that LGBTQ community is reckoning as a consequence of this draconian law. Whether by road, air or railway I want this law nullified by court expeditiously and that’s the purpose of the petitions. The more we are the stronger we are,” said Dr Frank Mugiusha, one of the petitioners. 

Constitutional Petition Number 014 of 2023 petition is backed by legislators Fox Odoi-Oywelowo and Paul Bucyana Kwizera. Others are activists Frank Mugisha, Pepe Onziema, Jackline Kemigisa, Andrew M. Mwenda, Linda Mutesi, Kintu Nyago, Jane Nasiimbwa.  The legal team representing the petitioners include lawyers Nicholas Opiyo and Henry Byansi

The second petition Constitutional Petition Number 015 of 2023 was filed by Prof. Sylvia Tamale, Dr. Busingye Kabumba, Andrew Mwenda, Solome Nakaweesi Kimbugwe, Kasha Jacqueline Naabagesera, Richard Smith Lusimbo, Eric Ndawula, Williams Apako and the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF). The legal team representing the petitioners include Dr. Henry Onoria, Mr. Ladislaus Rwakafuzi, Mr. Onyango Owor, Mr. Francis Tumwesigye, Ms. Susan Baluka and Mr Edward Ssemambo.

The two groups that challenge the constitutionality of the law on procedural and substantive grounds have appealed to the court to urgently hear the two petitions. They ask the Court to declare the law null and void on the basis that it contravenes Uganda’s Constitution and Uganda’s international and regional human rights obligations.

“The Convening for Equality (CFE), a Ugandan LGBTIQ community-led convening, is fully supportive of the two petitions that share an important common goal. The petitioners and the legal teams are a diverse and stellar collective of Uganda’s leading independent minded politicians, activists, journalists and academics,” a statement by the group reads.

 The two petitions contend that the enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023 on May 2, 2023 was without meaningful and adequate public participation. They argue that the six days in which the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee scrutinised the Bill, out of the 45 days provided for in the Rules of Procedure of Parliament, was too short a time to facilitate public participation and contribution in any meaningful, exhaustive or representative manner.

The petitioners further contend that the law is in violation of a spectrum of constitutional rights and freedoms including the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to dignity, the right to liberty, the right to privacy, the right to health, the principle of legality under the right to a fair hearing, the right to property and privacy of property, the right to carry on any lawful occupation, trade or business, freedom of expression and association, and the obligation to respect, uphold and promote human rights from infringement.

The petitioners claim that the Parliament violated Article 92 of the Constitution by passing a law that significantly altered decisions made in at least four court cases. They argue that the law imposed charges on the consolidated fund and other public funds of Uganda, which is in violation of Article 93(a)(ii) of the Constitution. Furthermore, they contend that the Certificate of Financial Implications issued by the Minister for the Bill did not adhere to the requirements outlined in the Public Finance Management Act of 2015.

 Prof. Sylvia Tamale and 8 others further argue that the conduct of the Speaker of Parliament during the second and third readings of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2023 amounted to bias and is therefore inconsistent with and in contravention of Article 89(1) and (2) of the Constitution.

 “Given the ongoing documented attacks on the rights of Ugandans that this is law has prompted, it remains critical to report incidents of human rights violations including harassment, intimidation, forced evictions, blackmail, extortion, arbitrary arrests and detention or violence and denial of medical care to emergency response groups,” said Clare Byarugaba of Chapter Four Uganda.