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(Nairobi) – A diverse group of Ugandan individuals and nongovernmental organizations filed a constitutional challenge to the Anti-Homosexuality Act on March 11, 2014. President Yoweri Museveni signed the bill into law on February 24.

“Uganda’s constitution explicitly protects basic human rights for all,” said Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher. “The anti-homosexuality law completely defies Uganda’s constitution and its legal obligations under international law, so this challenge is a crucial step to ensure that the law is removed from the books.”

The challenge argues that the new law is overly broad and unconstitutional on multiple grounds, including by violating Ugandans’ rights to equality before the law without discrimination, as well as their rights to privacy, freedom of expression, thought, assembly, association, and civic participation. The petitioners contend that the law encourages homophobia and stigmatization and contravenes the government’s obligations to respect the rights guaranteed under international human rights treaties that Uganda has ratified. Furthermore, the petitioners request an injunction against enforcement of the law while the challenge is pending.

Uganda’s penal code already criminalizes “carnal knowledge against the order of nature,” but the new law goes much farther, criminalizing various forms of same-sex conduct, including “touching with the intent to commit homosexuality.” It also criminalizes keeping “a house, room, set of rooms or place of any kind for purposes of homosexuality” and engaging in the undefined “promotion of homosexuality.” Human Rights Watch has urged the government to repeal the law. It has urged donors to carefully review their support to Uganda to assess any potentially negative impact as a result of the law given its sweeping criminalization of all forms of “promotion of homosexuality,” which threatens legitimate human rights and public health work.

The petitioners include several prominent Ugandans, including a law professor, one current and one former member of parliament, a journalist, a medical doctor, three LGBTI activists, and two nongovernmental organizations, one working on a range of human rights issues and one focused on the right to health.

Given that hearings before the Constitutional Court can be delayed for several years, the court should schedule the case for hearing expeditiously.

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