August 1, 2014 at 6:23 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
BREAKING: Uganda court strikes down anti-gay law

Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

Ugandan human rights advocates earlier this year petitioned the Ugandan Constitutional Court to block an anti-gay law the country’s president signed last month. (Photo courtesy of Ellen Sturtz)

The Constitutional Court of Uganda on Friday struck down a law that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

The Associated Press reported five judges ruled that Parliamentarian Speaker Rebecca Kadaga illegally allowed a vote on the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill last December without the necessary quorum.

President Yoweri Museveni in February signed the law — under which those who are convicted of repeated same-sex sexual acts — face a life sentence.

The White House subsequently cut aid to Kampala that funded HIV/AIDS programs and other initiatives. The Obama administration in June announced a travel ban against officials who are responsible for anti-LGBT human rights abuses in the East African country.

“We take note of the decision of the Constitutional Court of Uganda to nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act,” a State Department official told the Washington Blade. “We congratulate the plaintiffs who successfully challenged the validity of this law, and we encourage the Ugandan government to recognize and implement the court’s decision. In Uganda as in every country of the world, LGBT rights are human rights, and it is the responsibility of the government to ensure that they are respected and protected.”

Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBT advocacy group, is among those who also applauded the decision.

Nikki Mawanda, a transgender Ugandan advocate who is seeking asylum in the U.S., also applauded the decision.

“Today’s news that this unjust law has been declared null and void is a huge achievement,” he said. “Never before have we as LGBT people won at the constitutional court level in Uganda.”

“It’s a huge victory for all of us and for the many Ugandans that believe in equality and the respect for basic human rights,” Jeffrey Smith of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights told the Blade.

Smith stressed he feels LGBT Ugandans could still face additional persecution because of the ruling.

“The process will likely start over again with a new bill being introduced,” he told the Blade. “There also might be public backlash against the ruling, so protecting LGBTI people at this time in Uganda is of paramount importance for authorities.”

Mawanda agreed.

“As we celebrate, we know that Uganda is a place where mob justice is commonplace and that there has been a significant increase in violence against LGBT people since the anti-gay law was instituted earlier this year,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of the government to protect all its citizens, including LGBT people, from any violence against them that may ensue as a result of this verdict.”

Uganda is among the more than three dozen African countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized in spite of Friday’s ruling.

Those found guilty of consensual same-sex sexual activity face the death penalty in Mauritania, Sudan and portions of Nigeria and Somalia.

The Ugandan Constitutional Court’s decision comes less than a week before Museveni and other African heads of state are scheduled to take part in a summit in D.C. at which Obama and others are expected to speak.

Chris Johnson contributed to this story.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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