On Monday, 5 June 2017, a US federal court strongly reaffirmed the charges against homophobic American extremist Scott Lively in aiding and abetting crimes against humanity for the persecution of Uganda’s LGBTI community, but dismissed the case brought by Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) on a narrow jurisdictional ground.
Judge Michael Ponsor agreed that Lively’s actions violated international law, in a scathing summary judgment:
“Defendant Scott Lively is an American citizen who has aided and abetted a vicious and frightening campaign of repression against LGBTI persons in Uganda . . . [Lively’s] crackpot bigotry could be brushed aside as pathetic, except for the terrible harm it can cause.”
The evidence, Judge Ponsor later added, “confirmed the nature of Defendant’s, on the one hand, vicious and, on the other hand, ludicrously extreme animus against LGBTI people and his determination to assist in persecuting them wherever they are, including Uganda.”
Despite the court’s admission of Lively’s persecution and attempt to deprive LGBTI Ugandans of their fundamental rights, the judge ruled unable to hold him technically accountable. This was subsequent to a recent supreme court ruling in 2013 (Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Shell) which limits the ability of US courts to rule on human rights violations that occur in other countries on the basis of the Alien Torts Statute.
“The much narrower and more technical question posed by Defendant’s motion is whether the limited actions taken by Defendant on American soil in pursuit of his odious campaign are sufficient to give this court jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s claims.” Judge Posner stated.
The summary judgement clearly outlined it was “for this, and only this reason”.
While SMUG’s legal representatives, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) argue SMUG’s case should have gone forward because Scott Lively is a US citizen and contributed to the persecution in Uganda in part from the United States – the court disagreed.
Commenting on the ruling, SMUG Executive Director Frank Mugisha described the case as disappointing, but a win for SMUG and the wider Ugandan LGBTI community because of the court’s affirmation of Lively’s misconduct. Mr Mugisha stated:
“The court’s ruling recognized the dangers resulting from the hatred that Scott Lively and other extremist Christians from the US have exported to my country. By having a court recognize that persecution of LGBTI people amounts to a crime against humanity, we have already been able to hold Lively to account and reduce his dangerous influence in Uganda.”
SMUG filed the federal lawsuit against US-based Evangelical extremist Scott Lively in Springfield, Massachusetts in March 2012 for his role in the persecution of LGBTI people in Uganda, in particular his active participation in the conspiracy to strip away their fundamental rights.
In 2013, following Lively’s motion to dismiss the case, the court issued a groundbreaking decision which ruled that persecution on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is a crime against humanity and that the fundamental human rights of LGBTI people are protected under international law.
Despite the case’s dismissal, Judge Posner strongly denounced Scott Lively’s actions and conduct, and reaffirmed the previous landmark ruling which recognised the persecution of LGBTIs as a crime against humanity:
“Anyone reading this memorandum should make no mistake,” the judge wrote. “The question before the court is not whether Defendant’s actions in aiding and abetting efforts to demonize, intimidate, and injure LGBTI people in Uganda constitute violations of international law. They do.”
Following the court ruling, in an unexpected move, Scott Lively confirmed he will be appealing the dismissal of SMUG v Lively, in order to challenge the judge’s comments which condemned his actions. Lively’s announcement stated he aimed to,“purge the prejudicial ruling of Judge Ponsor’s false and subjective assertion that the incidents in Uganda on which the suit is based constitute crimes against humanity”.
SMUG is yet to confirm whether it will appeal.