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Sexual minorities group vows to challenge court of appeal ruling

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Activists at the Court of Appeal in Kampala shortly after Court had delivered its verdict

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | LGBTQ rights activist Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) has vowed to challenge the court of appeal ruling in a case it had filed against the Uganda Registration Services Bureau.

SMUG on Tuesday suffered a major setback after the Court of Appeal ruled in support of the High Court’s decisions that the Uganda Registration Services Bureau did not breach the law when it refused the registration of the name ‘Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG)’ as a company limited by guarantee in 2012.

“We are fully committed to elevating the challenge to the next level. After thorough debriefing, we will communicate our next strategic steps. This ruling doesn’t faze us” said Mugisha.

The group says the ruling missed the opportunity to address the suppression or their freedom of association but instead focused on the perceived societal norms.   “It underscores the recurring trend in Ugandan Courts wherein the rights of LGBTQ,” said Frank Mugisha the Executive Director at Sexual Minorities’ Uganda-SMUG.

He said six years later, the Court of Appeal affirmed the 2018 decision echoing the previous ruling by Lady Justice, Patricia Waswa Basaza.

“In her verdict today, Catherine Bamugemereire clarified, the appeal was not an abrogation of any particular behavior in our society. I have already found that the appeal was about the reservation of a name. The Learned trial judge did not err when she found that the respondent was justified in its decision, which decision was made in the public interest” Mugisha says while the ruling ostensibly focused on the naming issue, it also delved into the perceived objectives of SMUG, particularly is advocacy for the rights of LGBTQ persons, which the court deemed contrary to the national objectives and state policies.

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Dr. Mugisha, expressing resolve amidst disappointment not that “despite the judiciary’s conservative tilt, and susceptibility to the public sentiment, our commitment to championing the LGBTQ rights remains resolute” Mugisha said in a statement

“ Our constitutional rights to assembly and association are immutable and we shall continue our advocacy both within courtrooms and across society” he added.

One of the appellants, Denis Wamala lamented that the Court of Appeal’s decision reinforces what he described as state-sanctioned discrimination against sexual minorities, compromising the fundamental rights to freedom of association and assembly. “The Constitution challenge warrants urgent review by the Supreme Court,” said Wamala.

In 2012, Sexual Minorities Uganda took steps to be registered as a company limited by guarantee so as to fully enjoy the benefits and obligations of a registered organization as stipulated in the Ugandan law. However, the Uganda Registration Service Bureau, which is the office of the government in charge of name reservation and registration of companies, denied the reservation of their name on grounds that same sexual relations are criminalized under the section 145 of the penal code act.

SMUG had challenged the refusal to reserve its name and by extension the registration of the organization  which is a violation of its rights including; the right to freedom of association, expression, right to equal protection of the law, right to participate in peaceful activities to influence the policies or government through civic organization among others, all which are expressly protected in the constitution of the Republic of Uganda and accrue to everyone regardless of their status.

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The refusal to reserve the name Sexual Minorities Uganda on grounds that same-sex relations are prohibited is a gross violation of the right to association as guaranteed by the constitution.

The organisation said while the change of the name has in the past been suggested, doing so would require that SMUG which seeks to improve the human rights situation of sexual minorities in Uganda through advocacy, policy reforms and economic empowerment among others change its objectives and the work they do.

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