Friday, 1 August 2014

Uganda's High Court Strikes Down Anti-Gay Law

The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, a group against AIDS, protests in New York City against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda, 2009. (source)
Somewhat surprising yet highly positive news from Uganda. Their Supreme Court has nullified the recent anti-gay law that would have seen people thrown in jail for being gay or supporting LGBT rights.

Uganda Antigay Law Struck Down by Court

The way I understand it, the court didn't rule on the whether or not the law violated anyone's human rights. It didn't consider anything other than how the law was passed. So this was ruled on a procedural technicality, which allows the court to remain neutral on the matter.
In front of an overflowing courtroom in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, a panel of five judges announced that the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which punishes some homosexual behavior with life in prison, was invalid because it had been passed by Parliament without a proper quorum.
I've blogged about this before. The Ugandan Prime Minister had problems with the way this was passed due to breach of parliamentary protocol. Quorum means that there are enough members in the parliament to properly pass a law and this wasn't the case by design it would seem when this law was stealthily pushed through.

As I've alluded to above, LGBT groups and their supporters are happy with the ruling but not so happy that the court didn't address anything about the oppressive nature of the law itself.
We’re very happy,” said Sylvia Tamale, a Ugandan law professor who has supported gay rights despite persistent threats and harassment. “But it’s unfortunate that the court did not deal with the substantive issues that violate our rights.”
Furthermore, by striking this down on a procedural technicality, the door is open for this very same law to just come back later on if it's passed with quorum.

However, a court -- or country -- could be between a rock and a hard place if their public, whipped up into a anti-homosexual religion-induced frenzy, wants laws like this but the national community, source of a great deal of monetary aid begin to impose sanctions. A ruling like this gives both the government and the court a convenient way out.
As the international criticism grew, and Western countries prepared to cut millions of dollars in aid, the Ugandan government modified the bill to make “aggravated homosexuality” punishable by life in prison, though that hardly placated Western donors. Parliament passed the bill in December, with advocates calling it an “early Christmas gift.” Mr. Museveni publicly signed it into law in February. At the time, he said “homosexuals are nurtured but not natured,” and said that he could not understand how gay men could not be attracted “to all these beautiful women.”

The Netherlands, Norway, Denmark and the World Bank swiftly reacted, cutting or postponing some of their aid to Uganda. In June, the United States announced that it was suspending some aid, imposing visa restrictions and canceling a regional military exercise as a message to “reinforce our support for human rights of all Ugandans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
We'll see where this goes. I fear we could be in the very same place within a year or two, but for now this is very good news, indeed.

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