Uganda Anti-Gay Law Struck Down by Court

Nairobi — A Ugandan court on Friday struck down a punitive anti-gay law that has strained Uganda’s relations with the West, but the court ruled on narrow technical grounds, preserving the possibility that the measure could be revived.

In front of an overflowing courtroom, a panel of five judges announced that the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which punishes some gay behavior with life in prison, was invalid because it had been passed by Parliament without a proper quorum.

“We’re very happy,” said Sylvia Tamale, a Ugandan law professor who has supported gay rights despite constant threats and harassment. “But it’s unfortunate that the court did not deal with the substantive issues that violate our rights.”

Uganda’s government, which is tightly controlled by President Yoweri Museveni, a former guerrilla fighter who has ruled for 28 years, did not immediately indicate if it was going to appeal.

Uganda’s vehement anti-gay movement began in 2009 after American preachers came to Uganda and worked closely with Ugandan legislators to draft a bill that called for putting gay people to death.

After an international outcry, with several Western countries threatening to cut aid, the Ugandan government modified the bill to make “aggravated homosexuality” punishable by life in prison. The bill was passed by Parliament in December, with advocates calling it an “early Christmas gift.” Mr. Museveni publicly signed it into law in February.

In June, the Obama administration announced it was cutting back on aid, imposing visa restrictions and canceling a regional military exercise as a message to “reinforce our support for human rights of all Ugandans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.” Several other countries also suspended assistance to Uganda.

Uganda is one of the Pentagon’s favorite partners in Africa, supplying peacekeeping troops to Somalia and wading through the bush side by side with American special forces to track down the last remnants of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a brutal band of ragtag guerrilla fighters who have massacred and kidnapped tens of thousands of people in central Africa.

It was not clear what impact the court’s ruling will have on American aid to Uganda.

“We will consider what steps may be necessary to respond appropriately to this new development,” a State Department official said.

by Jeffrey Gettleman
Source – The New York Times