Global HIV body, the International AIDS Society (IAS) has condemned the newly approved Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023, saying it’s an extreme violation of human rights and threatens to reverse the country’s progress in the HIV response.
The legislation passed on Tuesday and awaits accent by President Yoweri Museveni, makes it a crime to identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or queer (LGBTQ+) and it obligates families and friends to report people in same-sex relationships to authorities.
It also imposes lengthy jail sentences, including life in prison for gay sex, and the death penalty for “aggravated” homosexuality where a child is involved and where an offender is a person living with HIV.
In its latest statement, IAS says more than 30 African countries have banned same-sex relations through legislation and warns that this only reinforces stigma and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community and hampers progress on ensuring safe access to health services.
“Criminalizing LGBTQ+ people is wholly incompatible with an effective HIV response. While Uganda has made considerable gains in reducing the impact of HIV, gay men and other men who have sex with men, trans people, and sex workers continue to be less likely than the general population to access HIV treatment, prevention, and care services and will be further threatened by this legislation,” the statement reads.
In 2021, key populations such as gays and their sexual partners accounted for 51% of new HIV acquisitions in central, eastern, southern, and western Africa. This underscores the urgent need for governments in the region to work with, not against, communities most vulnerable to HIV.
The organization now calls on President Museveni to scrap the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023 and ground Uganda’s laws and policies in science rather than prejudice.
“We urge the Government of Uganda to provide a legal environment that protects rather than prosecutes gay men and other men who have sex with men, people who use drugs, Tran’s people, and sex workers to safely access HIV and other health services,” reads the statement.
Apart from IAS, other international AIDS bodies have commented on the bill with some threatening that the country might lose funding as a result. For instance, Dr. John Nkengasong, who oversees the U.S.
President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR,) which is until now Uganda’s biggest funder for HIV treatments, said the country has been receiving US$400million annually and the passage of the anti-homosexuality bill into law will jeopardize efforts to end HIV.
On her part, Winnie Byanyima, the UNAIDS Executive Director called for the rejection of the law like other activists, saying it will set back the fight against HIV and AIDS. “To end AIDS, all who need prevention, testing, or treatment services should get them. Discrimination and stigma drive people away,” she said.
While the activists are appealing to Museveni to not accent to the law, he expressed reservations last week as he spoke to members of parliament where he described gay people as deviants from nature and called for a thorough investigation into the vice.
“The homosexuals are deviations from normal. Why? Is it by nature or nurture? We need to answer these questions. We need a medical opinion on that. We shall discuss it thoroughly”, he said.