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Tuesday, 4 October 2011

In Uganda, LGBT rights case being heard today

Constitutional Court BuildingImage by André-Pierre via Flickr
Source: Behind The Mask

Uganda’s Constitutional Court will resume hearing a petition against the law that bars homosexuals from employment and accessing equal opportunities in Uganda today 4 October.

LGBTI activist Adrian Jjuko who is also the Executive Director of Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) petitioned the court to nullify section 15(6) d of the Equal Opportunities Commission Act 2007.

The precedent setting petition is being heard by five judges of the Constitutional Court led by deputy chief justice Alice Mpagi Bahigeine. The other judges are Steven Kavuma, Arach Amoko, Remmy Kasule and Constance Byamugisha. The last time the case came up was on July 18, 2011.

Ladislus Rwakafuzi, a Kampala gay friendly lawyer representing Mr Jjuko said on Tuesday in Kampala that the court would proceed on the set date.

The law establishing the Equal Opportunities Commission, a body with tribunal powers is disputed by gay rights activists in Uganda. Amongst other things, the Commission is tasked with ensuring that all Ugandans have access to equal opportunities, irrespective of tribe, religion, political opinion, race or any other such impediments.

However, the section states that the “commission shall not investigate any matter involving behaviour which is considered to be immoral and socially harmful; or unacceptable by the majority of the cultural and social communities in Uganda.”

Homosexuals are not mentioned by name as one of the groups in the act, however during the debate to pass the law, the Parliamentary Hansard of December 12, 2006, records Ms Syda Bbumba, the former Finance Minister saying homosexuals should be targeted using the disputed clause. She was supported by other legislators. Hansard is the name of the printed transcripts of parliamentary debates in the Westminster system of government.                                                                    

“It is very important that we include that clause. This is because the homosexuals and the like have managed to forge their way through in other countries by identifying with minorities,” reads the Hansard entry for the debate, quoting Ms Bbumba.

Minorities are not defined in the Constitution of Uganda. However, vulnerable groups have been defined in the National Equal Opportunities Policy of 2006 as categories of people who lack security and susceptible to risk.

Mr Jjuko maintains that that such a law was not good for human rights in Uganda, and called on all activists to stand and defend the rights of minority groups in Uganda.

Rwakafuzi said his client wants the section of the law declared unconstitutional.

Uganda’s judiciary has shown some level of independence when handling matters brought by groups advocating for homosexuals in the past. One of the judges handling this petition also faulted government in another case in which local village officials and the police intruded the privacy of LGBTI activist, Victor Mukasa and searched his home allegedly to find evidence of homosexuality.
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