May 26, 2024
Mausi Segun, Africa Director at Human Rights Watch, says Ugandan lawmakers should focus on ending endemic sexual violence rather than seeing this as an opportunity to embed abusive provisions that criminalize the sex lives of consenting adults.

By Human Rights Watch Press
Published May 6, 2021

Human Rights Watch urges President Yoweri Museveni to reject the Sexual Offenses Bill and instruct parliament to present a revised bill that takes a proper rights-respecting approach to addressing sexual violence, so that survivors and the general public can reap the benefits.Uganda’s draft law criminalises consensual sex and would allow some nonconsensual acts to go unpunished.

Human Rights Watch says the Sexual Offenses Bill of 2019 that was approved by Parliament on May 3, 2021, violates international human rights law by criminalizing consensual sexual acts between adults and yet falls short in its definition of consent.

“Ugandan lawmakers should focus on ending endemic sexual violence rather than seeing this as an opportunity to embed abusive provisions that criminalize the sex lives of consenting adults,” Mausi Segun, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, says. “Sexual offenses legislation should advance the rights of survivors and potential victims of violence, not enshrine rights violations into law.”

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The bill includes some positive provisions toward addressing sexual violence, including protecting sexual assault survivors’ rights during criminal proceedings and criminalising sexual harassment by people in positions of authority, Human Rights Watch said.

Ugandan feminists and human rights activists advocated for a sexual offenses bill that would decriminalize sex work, saying that criminalisation fosters violence and limits access to justice. However, parliament rejected their recommendations, maintaining prison sentences for sex workers, clients, and brothel keepers.

Parliament has also limited the requirement for consent to sexual acts by removing a provision that would have clarified that consent may be withdrawn ‘at any time before or during the performance of the sexual act’. Human Rights Watch contends that legislation on sexual violence should consider any sexual act that takes place after consent has been withdrawn to be a form of sexual assault.

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Mausi Segun, Africa Director at Human Rights Watch, says Ugandan lawmakers should focus on ending endemic sexual violence rather than seeing this as an opportunity to embed abusive provisions that criminalize the sex lives of consenting adults.The Sexual Offenses Bill prescribes the death sentence for ‘aggravated rape’, including when rape is committed by a person who is HIV positive. But Human Rights Watch says it opposes the death penalty under all circumstances, as well as any enhanced penalties based on a person’s HIV status.

The bill also criminalises ‘false sexual allegations’, a provision that activists fear could be used against survivors in a legal system that has often disregarded their claims. While the stated purpose of the bill includes preventing sexual offenses, the bill makes no effort to address underlying causes of widespread sexual violence, including gender inequality and the absence of comprehensive sexuality education. It does not address protection and assistance for survivors. An exclusive focus on punitive responses is unlikely to root out sexual violence, Human Rights Watch says.

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“The Sexual Offenses Bill does not do enough for survivors, conflates consensual sexual acts with violence, and offers tools to persecute LGBT people and sex workers in Uganda,” Segun says. “President Museveni should reject the bill and instruct parliament to present a revised bill that takes a proper rights-respecting approach to addressing sexual violence, so that survivors and the general public can reap the benefits.”

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