Academics file petition to annul anti-gay legislation

A group of Ugandan academics have signed a petition filed at the Constitutional Court in an attempt to have the Uganda’s anti-homosexuality legislation annulled.

There was an outcry at home and internationally when the new legislation was passed into law by President Yoweri Museveni on 29 May because it says that while identifying as gay would not be criminalised, “engaging in acts of homosexuality” would be an offence punishable with life imprisonment.

Capital punishment would also be imposed for having gay sex when HIV positive and merely “promoting homosexuality” is punishable with a 20 year sentence.

There are two Constitutional Court petitions against the law. One was filed by a group led by Ugandan academic, Professor Sylvia Rosila Tamale, who holds a law degree from Makerere University, a masters from Harvard Law School and a PhD in sociology and feminist studies from the University of Minnesota, also in the United States.

Tamale was the dean of the faculty of law at Makerere University, from 2004-08, the first female to hold the position. She also founded and serves as coordinator of the Law, Gender & Sexuality Research Project at Makerere University.

Other academics in the group include constitutional lawyer Dr Busingye Kabumba, who is a senior law lecturer at Makerere University.

A second petition was filed by a group of advocates, activists and academics including Dr Frank Mugisha, a recipient of the 2011 recipient Robert F Kennedy Human rights award and 2017 Nobel peace prize nominee, as well as feminist Solome Nakaweesi Kumbugwe and researcher Jackline Kemigisa.

In their grounds of appeal, filed in early June, the academics and their fellow petitioners said the new law violates freedom of thought, conscience and belief, including academic freedom, which is guaranteed under articles 20 and 29 (1) (b) of Uganda’s constitution.

They also said the law violates freedom of speech, expression and assembly and the right to impart, access and receive information as well as practice one’s profession.

Outside the petition, others such as researcher Kemigisa have been writing articles expressing how their academic professions will be affected by the new law.

In one opinion article, Kemigisa said the legislation endangers her work and freedom as a researcher covering queer and feminist movements in Uganda.

“This law, and its politicised ignorance, could also hinder my academic freedom to study the coloniality of gender and sexuality. The poorly defined offence of ‘promotion of homosexuality’ could apply to subjects such as decolonial theory, queer theory, feminism, and gender studies, which would make them no-go zones for many researchers,” wrote Kemigisa.

“Ultimately, the law could erase gender analysis, contextualisation of homosexuality in Ugandan history studies, and any number of other research practices from our academic culture. Our education system itself would then produce students with no critical analysis of gender, sexuality or their coloniality within our society.”

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