Uganda court overturns 'draconian' anti-gay laws

'Draconian' new measures struck down, but homosexuality still punishable under law

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 August, 2014, 1:38am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 August, 2014, 1:38am


Uganda's constitutional court yesterday overturned tough new anti-gay laws that had been branded draconian and "abominable" by international rights groups, saying they had been wrongly passed by parliament.

The law was "null and void", presiding judge Steven Kavuma told the court, saying the process had contravened the constitution, as it had been passed in parliament in December without the necessary quorum of lawmakers.

Cheering gay rights activists celebrated the ruling, but supporters of the law said they would appeal.

"Justice prevailed, we won," said lawyer Nicholas Opiyo, who led the challenge in the constitutional court.

"The retrogressive anti-homosexuality act of Uganda has been struck down by the constitutional court - it's now dead as a door nail," said Andrew Mwenda, one of 10 petitioners.

The law, signed by President Yoweri Museveni in February, said that homosexuals should be jailed for life, outlawed the promotion of homosexuality and obliged Ugandans to denounce gays to the authorities.

US Secretary of State John Kerry likened the law to anti-Semitic legislation in Nazi Germany, and Western nations made a raft of aid cuts to Uganda.

But homosexuality in Uganda remains illegal and punishable by jail sentences under previous legislation, which is expected to return after the court's decision.

Critics have said Museveni signed the law to win support ahead of a presidential election scheduled for 2016, which will be his 30th year in power.

Government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said the law - as it was on paper - remained valid, saying it had been struck down on a matter of procedure not content. "The ruling has not nullified the anti-homosexuality law, it only ruled on the validity of the procedure in parliament."

But gay rights activists were celebrating. "I am officially legal," said Frank Mugisha, another petitioner, who said that despite his celebratory mood the ruling was only the "beginning of a very long battle". "The law has been struck on technicalities, so the big picture is still there," he said.

Rights groups, who said the law triggered a sharp increase in arrests and assaults of members of the country's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, welcomed the decision.

"We are pleased that this law cannot be enforced and entrench further abuses and discrimination," said Maria Burnett from Human Rights Watch.

Lawmakers could seek to reintroduce a bill to parliament, a potentially lengthy process, with the last such bill taking four years to reach its final vote.

David Bahati, the MP who introduced the bill - which initially proposed the death penalty - said he still backed the law. "It is a setback but not a major one, because the law is intact," he said. "The law is good for Uganda, no matter what the court decides."