News from Uganda that the government is seeking to reaffirm penalties for homosexuality and criminalize the “promotion of homosexuality” will only serve to drive people of same-sex orientation underground. The implications for public health efforts are dire, and there is no doubt that if the bill is passed into law, it will deal a body blow to HIV prevention efforts.
In Uganda, as in many parts of Africa, the health of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Trans and Intersexual Peoples is marginalized. This sub-group is already faced many challenges including HIV, STDs and STIs, and mental health problems due to lack of access to services.
“This bill is a blow to the progress of democracy in Uganda,” said David Kato of Sexual Minorities Uganda. “Its spirit is profoundly undemocratic and un-African.”
According to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission the Ugandan Parliament is now considering a homophobic law that would reaffirm penalties for homosexuality and criminalize the “promotion of homosexuality.”
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 targets lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Ugandans, their defenders and anyone else who fails to report them to the authorities whether they are inside or outside of Uganda.
The proposed law will effectively criminalize homosexuality, and consequently bar any person of same-sex orientation from seeking public health services.
“The bill criminalizes “promotion of homosexuality” in the form of funding and sponsoring LGBT organizations and broadcasting, publishing, or marketing materials on homosexuality and punishes these acts with a steep fine, 5-7 years of imprisonment, or both,” says the IGHLRC.
“The bill effectively bans any kind of community or political organizing around non-heteronormative sexuality. It will lend itself to misapplication and abuse, and implicitly encourages persecution of LGBT people by private actors,” adds the IGHLRC.
The bill has a massive potential to put paid Uganda’s response to HIV and AIDS. As the IGHLRC puts it, HIV prevention activities in Uganda, which rely on an ability to talk frankly about sexuality and provide condoms and other safer-sex materials, will be seriously compromised.
Women, sex workers, people living with AIDS, and other marginalized groups may also find their activities tracked and criminalized through this bill.
In addition, the bill will only worsen the stigma and discrimination against people of same-sex orientation, including violence. In many parts of the world, the criminalization of persons of same-sex orientation has only resulted in the denial of HIV prevention services and education to this target group.
“Discrimination and punitive laws like this aimed at marginalised groups and at those often among the most affected by HIV drives people underground and does nothing to help slow down the AIDS epidemic,” said Daniel Molokele, Africa programme officer at the World AIDS Campaign to South Africa’s Times newspaper.
Failure to reach persons of same-sex orientation with effective HIV interventions or prevention education can have severe implications to the rest of the populace. Due to stigma and discrimation, persons of same sex orientation may be left out of government HIV and AIDS programmes.
The Ugandan Parliament needs to reconsider the proposed legislation, and instead of focusing criminalization, ensure that appropriate public health services reach same-sex practicing Africans and that their human rights are protected.
Take Action Now
Join the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and Sexual Minorities of Uganda (SMUG) in calling for the swift dismissal of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 and the protection of all Ugandans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni
State House Nakasero
P.O. Box 24594
Prime Minister Apollo Nsibambi
Post Office Building, Yusuf Lule Road
P.O. Box 341
Speaker of the Parliament Edward Ssekandi Kiwanuka
P.O. Box 7178, Parliamentary Avenue
Minister of Gender, Labour, and Social Affairs
Honorable Opio Gabriel
P.O. Box 1494
Med Kaggwa, Chair of the Uganda Human Rights Commission
Plot 20/22/24 Buganda Road
P.O. Box 4929,
Directorate for Ethics and Integrity
P.O. Box 7142
Chair of the Uganda Diplomatic Human Rights Working Groups
Send a copy to:
Jerry P. Lanier, Ambassador to the Republic of Uganda
Embassy of the United States of America
P.O. Box 7007,
Send an email and fax to:
Perezi K. Kamunanwire, Ambassador to the US
Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda
Permanent Representative of the Republic of Uganda to the United Nations
336 East 45 Street
New York, NY 10017
I am writing to express concern about legislation that would severely restrict the rights of Ugandan citizens, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and their defenders, in direct contravention of domestic and international law. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 would not only reaffirm penalties for homosexuality, but would criminalize the “promotion of homosexuality,” including funding and sponsoring LGBT organizations and broadcasting, publishing, or marketing materials on homosexuality. Any person in authority who fails to report known violations of the law within 24 hours will also be subject to a significant fine and up to 3 years in prison – even when this means turning in their colleagues, family, or friends.
The negative repercussions of the bill in Uganda will be immediate and severe. It effectively bans the free association and expression that are necessary for a flourishing civil society, and creates a climate of fear and hostility that undermines the citizenship and solidarity of all Ugandans. It will lend itself to misapplication and abuse, and implicitly encourages persecution of LGBT people by private actors. Effective HIV prevention activities in Uganda, which rely on an ability to talk frankly about sexuality and provide condoms and other safer-sex materials, will be difficult, if not impossible.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill violates National Objective 5(2) of the Ugandan Constitution, which provides that “the State shall guarantee and respect the independence of non-governmental organizations which protect and promote human rights.” Moreover, it directly violates the right to equality and freedom from discrimination (Article 21), the right to privacy (Article 27), the right to freedoms of speech, expression, association, and assembly (Article 29), the protection of minorities (Article 36), and the protection of civic rights and activities (Article 38) to which all Ugandans are entitled. It also violates the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and other international human rights treaties to which Uganda is a party. This bill undermines Uganda’s commitment to the international human rights regime and threatens the basic human rights of all its citizens.
The Bill’s revocation of fundamental rights would also seriously undermine the country’s reputation and credibility in the international arena. Because it claims jurisdiction over Ugandans who violate its provisions while outside of the country, the Bill will strain Uganda’s relations with regional and international partners.
While people may hold differing opinions about sexual orientation and gender identity, the legislation before Parliament is an ineffective and fundamentally illegal way to express opposition to a minority group. In recognition of the importance of a diverse, dynamic civil society and the domestic and international commitments that Uganda has made, I urge you to swiftly dismiss the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 and reaffirm the rights and responsibilities of all Ugandans.