In what has been described as “a surprising victory”, a Ugandan judge has ruled against the state and in favour of two LGBT activists.
Justice Stella Arach ruled on Monday that the police had violated the rights of Victor Mukasa and Oyo Yvonne in conducting an illegal raid on Mukasa’s home.
Speaking to a courtroom packed with Ugandan, Kenyan, and Rwandan LGBT activists, the judge cited constitutional violations of the rights to privacy, property and the fundamental rights of women.
The ruling is likely to become a landmark case in a country that currently criminalises homosexuality and has repeatedly made efforts to silence sexual rights activists.
“This is a profound ruling that will limit police intrusiveness into the private lives of human rights defenders,” said Paula Ettelbrick, Executive Director at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC).
“IGLHRC is proud of Victor and Oyo’s courage to set this precedent, not only for LGBT people but for everyone,” she said.
In July 2005, local officials illegally raided Mukasa’s home, looking for “incriminating material.” They seized documents and other materials related to LGBT organising in Uganda.
Mukasa was absent but officials arbitrarily arrested and detained Oyo Yvonne, taking her to a police station and subjecting her to humiliating and degrading treatment, including forcing her to undress “to prove that she was a woman.”
After the Ugandan government failed to investigate or take any action to remedy the wrongs that had occurred, Mukasa and Oyo filed a private suit against the Attorney General.
In the ruling, Justice Arach acknowledged that the government was not directly responsible for the actions of the local official, an elected town councillor, but nevertheless held the Attorney General’s office responsible for the actions of the police.
Justice Arach cited the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention of the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) ad key human rights treaties that had been violated by the police’s actions.
“The most important role that police can play is to protect people,” said Mukasa, Program Associate for the Horn, East and Central Africa at IGLHRC and one of the founders of Sexual Minorities Uganda.
“This judgment is a serious reminder to the Ugandan police that all Ugandans, including LGBT people, should be handled with respect and dignity.”
IGLHRC says that it has documented nearly a dozen arrests of LGBT people on charges related to homosexuality in Uganda over the last five years.
In addition to the sharp rebuke to the state in the wording of the judgment, the court has awarded financial damages.