Uganda’s recent enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which includes severe penalties for LGBTQ+ individuals, has drawn criticism for the European Union (EU). Activists worldwide have slammed the EU for missing a critical opportunity to take action in response to this harsh legislation.
The European Commission, representing the EU’s executive branch, confirmed that it would not suspend humanitarian aid to Uganda despite the controversial law. This decision has sparked outrage within the LGBTQ+ community and its supporters.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda not only outlaws same-sex marriage but also imposes life imprisonment for same-sex acts and calls for the death penalty in cases of “aggravated homosexuality.” This term encompasses various scenarios, including sexual acts with minors, HIV-positive individuals, and instances of incest.
Jutta Urpilainen, the European Commissioner for International Partnerships, defended the EU’s stance, stating that withholding financial assistance from Uganda would harm vulnerable populations, including the LGBTQ+ community. She also expressed concerns that such disengagement could create opportunities for other actors who do not share EU values to fill the gaps.
Despite this reasoning, Ugandan LGBTQ+ organization Convening For Equality (CFE) strongly criticized the EU’s decision. They argue that the EU missed a critical opportunity to protect LGBTQ+ rights and combat discrimination in Uganda. Clare Byarugaba, a leader within CFE, emphasized the importance of non-discrimination, a principle the EU claims to deeply commit to.
Frank Mugisha, another CFE leader, suggested that the EU could have taken a more effective response that redirected assistance in ways that ensure government officials and individuals promoting hatred and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community do not benefit from EU taxpayers’ money.
This development comes in the wake of growing persecution of queer Ugandans under the recent legislation. Reports of arrests and prosecutions for same-sex activity have raised concerns about the safety and well-being of LGBTQ+ individuals in Uganda.
Despite these challenges, Urpilainen stated that the EU remains committed to engaging with Ugandan authorities and civil society to promote equality regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. The EU is intensifying its support for civil society and LGBTQ+ defenders while opposing the death penalty, with a focus on protecting at-risk individuals and organizations.
High-level EU officials have also raised the issue with Ugandan government officials, parliament, and the president, emphasizing the contradiction between the criminalization of homosexuality and principles of equality and non-discrimination in international human rights agreements. The LGBTQ+ community and its allies continue to advocate for change and protection of LGBTQ+ rights in Uganda amidst ongoing challenges.