Uganda Government Shuts Down Pride for Second Consecutive Year

by HRC Staff

For the second consecutive year, Ugandan officials have shut down Pride celebrations in Kampala, the capital.

Post submitted by Jeremy Kadden and Saurav Jung Thapa

For the second consecutive year, Ugandan officials have shut down Pride celebrations in Kampala, the capital. On August 16, after months of careful negotiations with their government to organize low-key pride celebrations, LGBTQ activists in Uganda received the shocking news that the events had been shut down by Minister of Ethics Simon Lokodo. This disturbing development follows last year’s police raid on the pride festival, which resulted in dozens of arrests.

HRC partnered with Uganda Pride last year and was sponsoring one of the main Pride events this year through HRC’s Global Partnerships in Pride program.

“This action by the Ugandan government to shut down Pride is a clear violation of LGBTQ Ugandan’s human rights,” said HRC Global Director Ty Cobb. “Ugandan citizens have the right to peacefully assemble and celebrate. The Ugandan government must reverse course and permit this gathering to proceed. Anything less is an assault on fundamental human rights”

In a public statement, Uganda Pride organizers said that “extra precaution was taken in organising this year’s festival” because of the raid on last year’s festival. Nevertheless, on August 16, they found “police surrounding the venue of the opening gala.”

Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) said the announcement came as a “wicked stab in the back” because in early August, “Minister Lokodo in his office welcomed and spoke with SMUG officials, Pride organizers and allies.” SMUG believed that meeting represented “a ray of hope,” since SMUG and their allies had agreed to Lokodo’s restrictions that there be no so-called “promotion, recruitment, and exhibition” during the events.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, a strongman who has held onto power since 1986, signed the country’s infamous Anti-Homosexuality Bill in February 2014. Though the Constitutional Court subsequently invalidated it in August the same year, the law created a violent backlash against the LGBTQ Ugandan community that persists to this day. President Museveni won re-election in 2016 in polls that  international electoral observers asserted “fell short of key democratic benchmarks,” noting the arrest of opposition party members and the shutdown of social media sites.

Another law affecting the LGBTQ community and activists is the Non-Governmental Organizations Act. Passed in November 2015, it requires all non-government organizations to apply for a permit in order to operate and gives authorities the ability to jail leaders of organizations if their message is “against public interests.” The measure threatens to stop the work of organizations including SMUG, as well as the work of other international NGOs in Uganda. Under President Museveni’s authoritarian rule, the situation remains grim for LGBTQ groups and activists and they are unable to advocate peacefully. 

HRC will continue to provide updates as this story develops. Read more about our work here.