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Anti-Gay Law Will be Overturned Say Uganda’s Campaigners

Fox Odoi, a ruling party MP, is one of the petitioners challenging Uganda’s draconian anti-gay law. He is pictured here on Tuesday Mar. 11 just as the petition was filed with Constitutional Court. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

KAMPALA, Mar 13 2014 (IPS) - Human rights campaigners who filed a recent legal petition against Uganda’s draconian anti-gay law believe that they have a compelling case for its nullification.

“Judges are human beings. But we are pretty sure we have made a compelling case for the nullification of the law and the judges will exercise their judicial minds to the law as presented before them [rather than pay attention to] public sentiments,” Secretary of the Uganda Law Society, Nicholas Opiyo, told IPS.

On Tuesday, Mar. 11, a coalition of campaigners filed a petition with Uganda’s Constitutional Court in Kampala in response to the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014. President Yoweri Museveni signed the bill into law on Feb. 24.

The law strengthens penalties for homosexual acts, prescribing life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality” and criminalising the “promotion” of homosexuality. The team is seeking an injunction against the enforcement of the law.

Opiyo, who helped draft the petition, said the legal challenge “raises important constitutional and legal issues that the court must resolve satisfactorily.” The petition was filed under the auspices of the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law (CSCHRCL), a coalition of 50 indigenous civil society organisations advocating for non-discrimination.

It argues, among other things, that the anti-gay law “violates Ugandans’ constitutionally guaranteed right to: privacy, to be free from discrimination, dignity, to be free from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment…”

The petitioners are also seeking a permanent injunction against media houses or any other organisations from publishing pictures, names, addresses or other details of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual and intersex (LGBTI) or suspected LGBTI persons.

On Feb. 25, just one day after Museveni signed the anti-gay law, Ugandan tabloid Red Pepper published a list of what it said were “Uganda’s 200 top homos”. A string of other sensational headlines in other editions of Red Pepper, and another tabloid Hello, ensued.

Geoffrey Ogwaro of CSCHRCL was named in a Mar. 1 issue of Red Pepper, which carried the front page headline “Ugandan homos form cabinet”. His photo was featured on page two.

Although the activist’s immediate family knowns that he is gay, he said his mum was still “heartbroken” after being shown the paper. “She’s never really come to terms with it and when it became public it was really embarrassing for her,” Ogwaro said. “She’s cooled down now but it was a bit of a shock to her.”

Opiyo said his “conservative guess” was that it could take “about six months” to come up. But he said that even then the public discourse surrounding the law, which is popular with most Ugandans, may “weigh on the minds of the judges.”

“We are under no illusion that this petition is the most popular petition. We know too well that the general public may be adverse to our petition and will seek to vilify the petitioners and their lawyers,” Opiyo said.

Among the petitioners is Fox Odoi, a ruling party MP and former legal advisor to Museveni who is the only legislator to speak out publicly against the law. “I believe it’s irrational, it has no basis, it offends every human right that you can think about, it offends our constitution. It offends our treaty obligations of Uganda,” Odoi told IPS about the anti-gay law.

“As a citizen, as a legislator, as a human rights lawyer, I owe it to the people of Uganda to stand up and challenge it. Of course there’s a big political risk, this society is very homophobic and they’ll brand you all manner of names just because you stood up to speak for the minority. But in life you take a risk even waking up in your bed every day.” “Personally I do not agree that we’re going to lose in the Constitutional Court and the Court of Appeal… We have a good case,” Odoi said.

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  • F Young

    Fox Odoi, Geoffrey Ogwaro and the other petitioners are very brave. That’s true heroism.