Human rights violations for LGBTI people in Uganda are a persistent problem, according to a methodical examination of reported incidents stretching back for 10 years.
The report’s findings contradict the often-made claim in Uganda that there are no violations of human rights or dignity in that country on the basis of people’s real or apparent sexual orientation or gender identity, the researchers concluded. Their report also proposed specific steps forward for organizations ranging from the Ugandan police to the Ministry of Health.
LGBTI rights activists in Uganda excluded incidents from their November 2014 report, Uganda Report of Violations based on Sex Determination, Gender Identity, and Sexual Orientation, if alleged incidents could not be verified by “a rigorous verification process that required [each incident] to be supported by three different witnesses and documentary evidence.”
The report found 78 cases of violations of rights and dignity of individuals based on sex determination, gender identity and sexual orientation, including:
- 30 violations in 2013.
- 21 violations in 2012.
- 9 violations in 2011.
- 10 violations in 2010.
- 5 or fewer violations in each year from 1995 through 2009.
The researchers said that the lower level of reported and verified violations before 2010 was because fewer LGBTI organizations were active then and because older incidents were harder to verify.
By category, the verified incidents included:
- 43 cases involving violations of due process rights by members of the police forces, often involving arrest and unlawful detention.
- 15 involving violations of the right to privacy.
- 14 involving violations of the right to property, including eviction from rented houses.
The study was conducted by the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law (CSCHRCL), Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), Rainbow Health Foundation (RHF), Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and the Support Initiative for Persons with Congenital Disorders (SIPD). Benetech Inc. provided technical and financial support for the report, including the company’s Martus Software, which was used to document violations.
“We hope the report will be useful in advocacy work in Uganda especially in these times when efforts to reintroduce the Anti-Homosexuality Bill seem to be gaining momentum,” said Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of HRAPF.
The report stated:
“Not surprisingly, this report includes more cases from Kampala than from anywhere else in the country. Violations occurring in rural areas are underrepresented in this report.
“In most rural districts, community organising for LGBTI rights is not as vibrant as it is in Kampala, and many cases of abuse go unreported.
“On the other hand, the fact that most rural areas in Uganda do not have many ‘out’ LGBTI persons suggest that violations may be less likely to occur outside of Kampala.”
As a result, the report said, “the data in this report does not accurately represent the true geographic variance of violations occurring across Uganda but rather reflects the current status of the reach of documentation and verification efforts that [activist] organisations could conduct.”
Of the 106 victims of human rights abuses who were interviewed for the report:
- 37 self-identified as gay men;
- 32 declined to identify their sex, gender, or sexual orientation status;
- 15 self-identified as lesbians;
- 9 as intersex;
- 7 as transwomen; and
- 6 as transmen.
- No individuals self-identified as bisexual.
The report added: “While there were no indications of specific targeting of gay men as compared to others among the LGBTI group, research showed that they are the most likely to be reached by researchers to report cases to organisations that document them, while other populations were more difficult to reach or did not come forward to report violations as frequently.”
The researchers also stated:
“This report demonstrates in conclusive fashion that virulent forms of discrimination are an unfortunate fact of life for many members of the LGBTI community in Uganda. LGBTI individuals in Uganda are at increased risk of human rights abuses ranging from unlawful pre-trial detention to violations of the right to form a family. They are exposed to situations that threaten their physical security; they are denied their rights to freedom of assembly, expression and association. …
“The abuses detailed in this report violate the Constitution of Uganda as well as international human rights instruments. …
“Even though the Constitution guarantees rights to everyone equally, and even though the Penal Code in principle criminalizes specific sexual acts rather than LGBTI identities [prison sentences for same-sex intimacy], in practice the Code is used as an excuse for harassment of actual and presumed LGBTI persons, regardless of whether they have or have not committed the acts stipulated in the Penal Code Act.”
Harassment by family members
The report added:
“It is an unfortunate reflection of the virulence of homophobia, transphobia, and intersexphobia that exists in Ugandathat many of the reported abuses against LGBTI individuals were carried out by members of their immediate family.
“On the evening of January 10, 2012 in Kampala, a gay man was detained and assaulted by his parents, who believed him to be a homosexual. The house assistant helped the man’s parents tie him to a bed, whereupon the mother and father beat him with shoes and a length of rope. The man’s brother was
locked in a separate room so that he could not intervene to release him until 6 am the next morning.”
Criticism and some praise for police
The report paid particular attention to police conduct in dealings with LGBTI Ugandans:
“Police officers routinely violate people’s right to privacy and ‘out’ suspected LGBTI people to the media and other Ugandans. Members of the police have arrested LGBTI persons without following due process and without giving them the details of their arrests. In many cases, those arrested are subjected to lengthy pre-trial detention. …
“When faced with threatening situations, many LGBTI persons opt to relocate in order avoid confrontation with the police and others in their communities. The fear of being outed has led to members of the LGBTI community to distrust the police and refuse to report to them when their rights are violated. This puts many LGBTI people at risk and denies them access to justice.
“Notwithstanding its significant failures to protect and promote the rights of sexual minorities, Uganda’s police forces must be credited for doing the important work of defending the rights and interests of Ugandan citizens, including members of the LGBTI community, as demonstrated by the following examples:
- On January 17, 2013, officers at the Jinja Road Police Station in Kampala opened an investigation after a woman came to them complaining about threatening text messages that accused her of promoting homosexuality.
- In August 2012, police in the Ntinda neighbourhood of Kampala arrested one of three men accused of the corrective rape of a lesbian woman.
- When a LGBTI organisation’s offices were broken into on December 26, 2012 and a number of items were stolen, including computers, Uganda Police Force officers visited the crime scene and took statements from three individuals associated with the organisation.
“In all too many instances, however, Uganda’s police forces have failed to uphold the rights of sexual minorities. In several documented cases, police officers have failed to protect LGBTI individuals or have proved unwilling or unable to investigate and prosecute violations.
- In one example, five men who were visiting a friend’s home in Kampala on April 19, 2013 were surrounded by unknown individuals who threatened to burn the men the death in the house for supposedly promoting homosexuality. The incident was reported to the police, who failed to investigate the matter. …
- The failure of police officers to protect detainees extends in at least one instance to the failure to provide urgently needed medical treatment:
A man beaten by a mob in Mbale in September 2009 was arrested and detained at the local police station on charges of taking part in homosexual sex. The man was not provided medical treatment for his injuries while in detention, and he died a few days after being released on bond. A post-mortem was not carried out to establish the cause of death, and the case was never disposed of by the court in Mbale.
The report proposed:
To the Uganda Police Force
The Uganda Police Force was cited as the entity responsible for most of the reported violations. Further, reports on corruption have repeatedly ranked the Uganda Police Force as the most bribery prone institution in the country.
Accordingly, the Uganda Police Force should:
• Introduce appropriate police training on human rights and violence
based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in order
to reduce unnecessary arrests, detentions and other violations of the
rights of LGBTI persons.
• Investigate all credible allegations of physical or verbal abuse against
individuals on the basis of gender identity or expression and sexual
• Establish monitoring systems to evaluate police stations’ capacity to handle
matters relating to gender-based violence in a non-judgmental and efficient manner.
• Establish separate areas for the detention of transgender people to avoid
the violence that occurs to them as a result of being detained with people
of a different gender.
• Increase police salaries and police conditions in order to reduce
incentives to arrest people for the purpose of extortion.
• Put in place mechanisms to fight bribery and extortion by the police.
To the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC)
The Uganda Human Rights Commission is constitutionally mandated to promote and protect human rights in the country. It thus has powers to investigate and redress cases of violations. The UHRC should:
• Investigate and document reports of violence and abuse against
individuals based on sexual orientation, sex determination, and gender
identity or expression.
• Reach out to LGBTI organisations and individuals in order to enhance
collection of cases of violations of the rights of LGBTI persons.
• Work with civil society organisations to monitor, document, expose, and
address incitement to violence, homophobia, violence, and abuse
on the basis of sexual orientation, sex determination, and gender identity
• Include violations of LGBTI rights in annual reports to Parliament and
include recommendations for policy changes.
• Advise parliament on laws and bills that may increase stigma and
discrimination against LGBTI persons.
To Members of Parliament
Parliament plays a vital role in promoting the wellbeing of all Ugandans. It also
has a mandate to make laws that conform to national and international standards of human rights and dignity. Members of Parliament should:
• End legal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and
intersex people by repealing all existing laws criminalising same-sex
conduct, and reject adoption of new discriminatory legislation.
• Amend Uganda’s Constitution to include explicitly prohibit
discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex
• Publicly condemn attacks or incitement to violence against individuals or
groups on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or
• Call upon the Uganda Human Rights Commission to monitor violations
affecting LGBTI Ugandans.
• Use its Standing Committee on Human Rights to engage with LGBTI
persons and organisations regarding laws that may have an adverse
impact on LGBTI persons
To the Uganda Law Reform Commission (ULRC)
The Uganda Law Reform Commission has the Constitutional duty to suggest
areas of law reform, and it is in the process of reviewing the Penal Code Act.
This is the right time to end legal discrimination of people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The ULRC should:
• Recommend that the Penal Code sections that explicitly discriminate on
the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity be repealed, including
Section 145 on carnal knowledge against the order of nature.
• Recommend the restriction of Penal Code sections that are used by the
police and private parties to harass people based on their sex determination,
sexual orientation, and/or gender identity, including Section 160
(common nuisance), Section 167 (idle and disorderly), and Section 168
(rogue and vagabond).
To the President of Uganda
The president has a constitutional mandate to assent to or reject laws passed by Parliament. The office of the president is therefore key to the law-making process and to ensuring that the laws enacted respect and observe the rights of all people without discrimination. The President should:
• Veto legislation that is discriminatory on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
• Publicly condemn human rights violations based on sexual orientation
or gender identity.
To the Ministry Of Health
The Ministry of Health has the mandate to ensure access to health services. As
such the Ministry of Health should:
• Institute training for healthcare service providers on sexual orientation,
sex determination, and gender identity.
• Institute proper guidelines for providing medical care to all people
To the Uganda Prisons Service
The Uganda Prisons Service is responsible for conditions and environment with which prisoners are detained. The Uganda Prisons Service should:
• Establish separate areas for the detention of transgender people to avoid the violence that occurs to them as a result of being detained with people of a different gender.
• Protect all prisoners including LGBTI prisoners from violence perpetrated by fellow prisoners or prison warders.
To Foreign Governments
• Call on the government of Uganda to improve and expand rights for
• Use quiet diplomacy to sensitise Ugandan leaders to LGBTI issues
domestically and abroad.
To Local Organisations
• Support public education and awareness-creation programs on sexuality,
sexual and health rights, and violence and discrimination by targeting law
enforcement agencies, health services, and educational institutions.
• Support the Uganda Human Rights Commissions’ mandate to monitor
and document reports of violence, abuse, and discrimination based on
sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.
• Strengthen reporting systems, evidence collection and data storage to
facilitate easy verification of violations against people based on their
sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.
• Create information sharing systems so that reports of violations can be
used simultaneously by multiple parties.
• Hold awareness sessions with staff members to sensitize them to issues
affecting LGBTI Ugandans.
• Create partnerships with other organisations to monitor and document
abuses of LGBTI rights.
To Members of the Media
The media plays an important role of informing society and has power which must be used responsibility. Members of the media should:
• Treat all people with respect and dignity, regardless of sex determination, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
• Learn about, monitor, and report on abuses of human rights and dignity
that LGBTI Ugandans face.
• Protect the privacy of LGBTI individuals who may be threatened,
assaulted, or even killed as a result of being “outed” by the media.
- Ugandan LGBTI Human Rights Violations Report Released (oblogdeeoblogda.me)
- Ugandan Lawmakers Draft New Anti-Gay Bill (bet.com)
- Challenge to Ugandan anti-gay law seeks regional impact (76crimes.com)