• Sheet of paper Report

Rule By Law: Discriminatory Legislation and Legitimized Abuses in Uganda

October 15, 2014


As Uganda's ruling party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) looks ahead to the 2016 elections, which will mark President Museven's 30th year in power, new laws have been enacted or proposed with a damaging effect on the human rights of Ugandans.


This report documents the cumulative human rights impact of three pieces of legislation – the Public Order Management Act (POMA), the Anti-Pornography Act (APA), and the now nullified Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA). These Acts were all passed by the Parliament of Uganda and signed into law between August 2013 and February 2014, though the AHA had been debated for over four years before it was passed. This flurry of repressive and discriminatory legislation represents an increasing use of "rule by law" to intensify restrictions on free expression, association and assembly in place since the reintroduction of multiparty politics in 2005.


While these laws have had a repressive and discriminatory impact, the causes of this legislation are manifold. The POMA was first introduced as a bill as President Museveni and the NRM faced more challenges from outside and within the ruling party. The AHA, introduced as a Private Member's bill rather than government legislation, demonstrates the rising influence of religion on law-making. As the debate around it took shape, however, it drew in broader identity issues, such as Uganda's relationship with the Global North, cultural autonomy and family values. These factors also shaped the context in which the APA became law.


Uganda's development partners' response to the AHA was much stronger, in words and actions, than their response to the POMA or the APA. Many Ugandan civil society actors feel that donors have not demonstrated sufficient concern about the rollback of other human rights. The focus on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights was counterproductive and ultimately entrenched the misperception that this was an imposition from the Global North.


The Acts collectively reinforce state control and restriction of expression, assembly and association. They have given the authorities enormous discretionary power to enforce their often vaguely defined provisions. After the AHA was passed by Parliament, LGBTI individuals were arbitrary arrested by the police, including when reporting crimes, and some reported being beaten and groped by the police and other detainees in custody. The POMA has led to spates of police suppression of public assemblies, including gatherings involving political opposition groups. It has had a chilling effect on the ability of civil society to organize, even styming attempts to challenge the laws themselves.


The vitriolic rhetoric from some religious figures and politicians which accompanied the passage of the AHA and the APA into law stoked homophobia and encouraged mob justice targeting women. Immediately after the APA and AHA were signed, women seen to be “dressed indecently” and individuals believed to be LGBTI were attacked in the streets, stripped and beaten. Other LGBTI people were evicted from their homes, lost their jobs, and faced challenges accessing healthcare. The impact was wide-reaching and the ensuing fear pervasive.


The Ugandan government is violating its obligations to protect its citizens against human rights abuses by non-state actors. Discrimination, coupled with a failure by the police and other authorities to respond appropriately to human rights violations and abuses, has fostered a climate where impunity is tolerated and propagated by the state. Broadly worded provisions in the laws have been interpreted by the general public in a way that encourages these abuses. The government’s failure to clarify these laws shows its complicity in the abuses, as well as its failure to ensure equal access to justice and the right to an effective remedy.


The impact of the laws has changed over time. The POMA was invoked more in the first quarter of 2014 to supress public assemblies, but continues to have a chilling effect. The immediate impact of the APA peaked in the days after it was signed, but longer-term it reinforces discrimination against women and gender stereotypes. Similarly, the AHA also had an immediate impact after it was passed by Parliament. Though the Constitutional Court’s nullification of the AHA on procedural grounds has resulted in a reduction in these abuses, by not tackling substantive rights violated by the law, the ruling was a missed opportunity to address homophobia which increased while the law was in force, and which persists as same- sex sexual relations between consenting adults continue to be criminalized under section


Uganda's Penal Code.

Amnesty International calls on the Government of Uganda to uphold its obligations under international human rights law. Specifically, it is asking the Ugandan government to repeal discriminatory legislation, to ensure the government is not complicit in human rights abuses stemming from such legislation, and to protect all Ugandans, including women, LGBTI people and political activists from discrimination, harassment and violence by state and non- state actors.


To the Government of Uganda:


  • Revise the Public Order Management Act to ensure that it does not violate human rights, including, but not limited to, the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

  • Fulfil its expressed commitment to review the Anti-Pornography Act and bring it in line with international standards to ensure that it does not violate human rights, including the rights to freedom from discrimination, privacy and equality before the law.

  • Repeal section 145 of the Penal Code of Uganda, which criminalizes consensual sex between adults of the same sex.

  • Take steps to prevent, and publicly condemn, mob justice attacks related to dress and homophobic and transphobic violence.

  • Take steps to prevent, and publicly condemn, discrimination, including in the areas of employment, housing, and healthcare provision.

    To the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Uganda Police Force:


  • Immediately cease the application of the provisions of the POMA, and uphold and promote the right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly within the scope permitted by the Constitution of Uganda and international human rights law.

  • End police harassment of LGBTI individuals when reporting crimes of which they have been a victim.

  • Ensure that incidents of mob justice attacks are fully investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.

  • Ensure that detainees are not ill-treated in detention, and have access to medication when required.

  • Carry out a prompt, independent and impartial investigation into allegations of human rights violations by the police.

  • Ensure that before any new law that require police enforcement comes into force, the police receive comprehensive training on the provisions of the new law.

    To the Ministry of Public Health:


  • Ensure that the Ministerial Directive on Access to Health Services without Discrimination is implemented including through training of Ugandan health workers on non-discrimination in service delivery and requirements to respect patient confidentiality, privacy and informed consent to all treatment.

    To the World Bank:


  • Publicly share the outcome of the World Bank’s independent assessment of the impact of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act on the proposed $90 million loan to the health sector.

  • Ensure the proposed loan to the health sector includes training of Ugandan health workers on non-discrimination in service delivery, robust third-party monitoring mechanisms to ensure non-discrimination, and requirements to respect patient confidentiality, privacy and informed consent to all treatment. 
  • To states providing development assistance to Uganda:


  • Ensure that human rights are respected in the use of development assistance.

  • Refrain from placing conditions on international assistance necessary to realise essential levels of economic, social and cultural rights, other than those necessary to ensure that assistance is used for the purposes for which it is intended and that it is used in a manner consistent with human rights. 

    To the African Commission:


  • Urge the Ugandan government to end all acts of violence and abuse, whether committed by state or non-state actors, including by enacting and effectively applying appropriate laws prohibiting and punishing all forms of violence, including those targeting persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation or gender identities, ensuring proper investigation and diligent prosecution of perpetrators, and establishing judicial procedures responsive to the needs of victims, in line with Resolution 275 of the African Commission.