King Charles and the Commonwealth urged to break silence on shocking Uganda anti-LGBT bill

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 13: King Charles III delivers his Commonwealth Day message as he attends the annual Commonwealth Day Service at Westminster Abbey on March 13, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Hannah McKay - WPA Pool/Getty images)
King Charles gave a speech from the Great Pulpit at Westminster Abbey at his first Commonwealth Day since becoming head of the association, rather than the usual written message. (Getty Images) (WPA Pool via Getty Images)

King Charles has been urged to speak out in his role as head of the Commonwealth over new legislation in Uganda that will make identifying as LGBT+ illegal and mean some homosexual acts are punishable by death.

On Tuesday, MPs passed a draconian new bill to bring in steep sentences such as life in prison for same-sex relations and the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality" — which, according to the bill, includes gay sex with people under 18.

Charles inherited the title of Head of Commonwealth when Queen Elizabeth died, and Uganda has been a member of the organisation since 1962.

Human rights activist Peter Tatchell said the new legislation would violate Sections 2 and 4 of the Commonwealth Charter if it is signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni, who has previously said he supports the bill.

Tatchell called on King Charles and the Commonwealth Secretary General, Baroness Scotland, to acknowledge at the very least that this law would be in conflict with the values of the Commonwealth's Charter.

Tatchell told Yahoo: "The Commonwealth secretary-general and the King should point out that the new Uganda bill violates the equality principles of the Commonwealth Charter, which Uganda has signed and pledged to uphold."

Peter Tatchell joins fellow LGBT+ campaigners from Out & Proud African LGBTI and African Equality Foundation at a protest opposite Westminster Abbey where King Charles III and Commonwealth leaders were attending a Commonwealth Day service on 13 March 2023 in London, United Kingdom. The protest, which was led by Ugandan LGBT+ people, was intended to highlight the fact that same-sex relations are still criminalised in 32 out of 56 Commonwealth member states (seven with life imprisonment) and to draw attention to Uganda's repressive Anti-Homosexuality Bill. (photo by Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty Images)
Peter Tatchell alongside other LGBT+ campaigners from Out & Proud African LGBTI and African Equality Foundation protested outside the recent Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey. (Getty Images) (Mark Kerrison via Getty Images)

He added: "The Uganda bill is one of the most sweeping and draconian homophobic laws ever proposed by any regime in the world. It would outlaw almost every aspect of LGBT+ existence, including LGBT+ identity, advocacy, funding and organisation"

He added: "It also breaches Article 21 of the Ugandan constitution and Articles 2 and 3 of the African Charter of Human & People’s Rights – both of which guarantee equal treatment and prohibit discrimination."

Turning a blind eye to such anti-LGBT+ legislation in a member country will damage the Commonwealth, another expert has warned.

"If the Commonwealth is to have any credibility as a values-based organisation it can't simply continue to maintain a vow of silence on this issue," Professor Philip Murphy, Director of History & Policy at the Institute of Historical Research, told Yahoo.

"LGBT+ rights are a key issue for the Commonwealth, both because 32 out of its 56 member states criminalise same-sex relationships and because in many cases this is a legacy of colonial-era laws imposed during British rule.

"Yet only in the most extreme cases, such as the outcry in 2019 over Brunei's plans to impose death by stoning for homosexual acts and adultery, has the Commonwealth secretary general been prepared to speak out."

TOPSHOT - Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Britain's Prince Charles, Prince of Wales arrive for the formal opening of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), in the ballroom at Buckingham Palace in London on April 19, 2018. (Photo by Jonathan Brady / POOL / AFP) (Photo by JONATHAN BRADY/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
In 2018, Queen Elizabeth told the Commonwealth head of government it was her "sincere wish" that Charles succeed her as head of the voluntary association. (Getty Images) (JONATHAN BRADY via Getty Images)

In 2019, Baroness Scotland condemned plans in Brunei to make homosexual acts punishable by death.

She said at the time: "I have communicated my concern to the Government of Brunei, strongly urging it to reconsider the introduction of the punishments proposed under the new Penal Code which, if implemented in its current form, will potentially bring into effect cruel and inhuman punishments which contravene international human rights law and standards."

One reason the Commonwealth Secretariat seem hesitant to condemn discrimination against the LGBT+ community across the association is that the issue is so prolific, according to Prof Murphy.

He said: "The suspicion must be that the prohibitions are so widespread that the Secretariat has been reluctant to offend heads of government."

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - SEPTEMBER 11:  Britain's King Charles III during an audience with the Commonwealth Secretary General Baroness Patricia Scotland at Buckingham Palace on September 11, 2022 in London, England. King Charles III ascended the throne of the United Kingdom on the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II on 8 September 2022.  (Photo by Victoria Jones-WPA Pool/Getty Images)
King Charles with Baroness Scotland - Commonwealth Secretary General - shortly after he ascended to the throne last September. (Getty Images) (WPA Pool via Getty Images)

Last year, ahead of the Commonwealth Games, diver Tom Daley spoke out against the homophobia prevalent in many Commonwealth countries.

"I’ve experienced homophobia all my life, competing in countries where it’s illegal to be me and where I don’t feel safe to leave the venue I’m competing in. If I feel like that as a privileged man, I can’t imagine what day-to-day life is like for LGBT+ people around the Commonwealth", he said.

Previously, in extreme cases, a few countries have been suspended from the organisation — Fiji, for instance, was suspended when a coup d'état took place on the island in 2006, but later rejoined.

Nigeria was suspended in 1995 for executing nine environmentalists, and Pakistan has been suspended twice.

Yahoo has approached Buckingham Palace for comment — in the King's capacity as Head of the Commonwealth — but received no response from them oor the Commonwealth Secretariat.