The Ugandan Government should show leadership on HIV prevention and the protection of human rights by rejecting the anti-homosexuality bill which has been tabled in the Ugandan parliament. Acknowledging the existence of gay and lesbian people in Uganda, and providing supportive measures to assist men and women in same sex relationships to make informed choices in their sexual health (i) is the only responsible way forward in the HIV prevention (ii) urge the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA), the AIDS Law Project, South Africa (ALP), the Global Network of People living with HIV (GNP+) and the International Network of Religious Leaders living with and affected by HIV (INERELA+).

A controversial anti-homosexuality bill has been tabled before the Ugandan Parliament. Its provisions include a life sentence for people who are guilty of “the act of homosexuality”, and the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”, where living with HIV is an aggravating factor. In addition, organizations that “promote homosexuality” can have their registration removed and their directors imprisoned for up to 7 years.

According to ARASA, ALP, GNP+ and INERELA+, the proposed bill – if enacted into law – will threaten the achievements of Uganda in its response to HIV over the last 25 years, and as such goes against its purported aim of protecting the Ugandan people. The law will violate basic human rights, including the rights of people in same sex relations, especially those living with HIV. It will not only undermine proven prevention, treatment and care efforts targeted at vulnerable populations such as men who have sex with men, but will also place them at greater risk (iii).

Contrary to the provisions of Uganda’s own Constitution, in criminalising sexual acts between same sex consenting adults, the Bill threatens to violate individuals’ rights to equality, autonomy, bodily integrity and privacy (iv)

“Provisions in the Bill that make it an offence to ‘promote’ homosexuality place unacceptable limitations on the rights to freedom of expression and association,” stated Michaela Clayton, Director of ARASA : “The Bill will effectively allow the government to shut down civil society organizations and media houses that engage in any activities that are deemed to support ‘homosexuality and related activities’.”

The Bill will have direct democratic and public health effects. Civil society organizations will no longer be able to legally advocate for the rights of or even disseminate health information for men and women engaging in same sex relations.

Criminalizing most-at-risk populations such as men and women in same sex relations, hinders HIV prevention by denying people education, methods and tools to practice safer sex, and might potentially amplify the epidemic in the general population (v)

“Enactment of this anti-homosexuality Bill will have a negative impact on HIV prevention, treatment and care efforts in Uganda, and risk the results of billions of dollars invested in the Ugandan HIV response,“ said Kevin Moody, International Coordinator and CEO of GNP+. “As such the bill is a slap in the face of Ugandans responding to the epidemic and donors funding the Ugandan HIV response.”

“Criminalizing homosexuality threatens the position of the tens of thousands Ugandans involved in testing, counseling, prevention education, treatment and care programmes who now will be unable to do their job, and this will have a life or death impact for their clients,” Kevin Moody continued.

Kevin Moody: “For people living with HIV in same sex relations, disclosure might really become a death sentence.”

“This harsh unforgiving and uncompromising view on homosexuality is a lingering heritage of the colonization of Africa and the Victorian Christian values imposed on it,” stated Rev. Johannes Heath of INERELA+: “Homosexuality remains divisive within faith communities. However in the heart of it all there is the agreement that the authentic way forward is to listen to each other with love.”

“In a largely Christian country like Uganda Jesus speaks ‘a new commandment I give to you – to love one another as I have loved you’,” declared Rev. Heath: “This bill leaves no room for loving engagement, this bill leaves no room for dialog and this bill leaves people exposed and vulnerable to HIV by removing any and every opportunity of engaging,” he continued.

ARASA, GNP+, INERELA+ and the ALP urge the Ugandan government to confront this discrimination, and enable all Ugandan citizens to prevent HIV and attain their full human rights.

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[i]United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) (2001).Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS. Paragraph 64; UNGASS (2006).Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS. Paragraph 20, 29.

[ii]UNAIDS (2005). Intensifying HIV Prevention. Geneva, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. Available at http://data.unaids.org/publications/irc-pub06/jc1165-intensif_hivnewstyle_en.pdf

[iii]UNAIDS (2006). UNAIDS Policy Brief: HIV and Sex between men. http://data.unaids.org/pub/BriefingNote/2006/20060801_Policy_Brief_ MSM_en.pdf (retrieved Oct. 23, 2009)

[iv]Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (2000). General comment No. 14; Human Rights Committee, Toonen Decision (1994) and comments to States to repeal laws criminalizing same-sex sexual activity; see also the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Paul Hunt, Document E/CN.4/2004/49, Par. 38.

[v] UNAIDS (2006).Ibid.

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