Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill and HIV Prevention and Control Bill are likely to be carried over to the new session of parliament, despite international and local pressure.
David Bahati, the Member of Parliament who introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (2009), said he fully intended to re-introduce the bill into the next session. The new parliament was sworn in on 16 May.
close google_inset_a div –>”The closure of this parliament is just pressing on the pause button,” he said. “I’m committed to the fight against behaviour and promotion of behaviour that is going to destroy the future of our children.”
Men who have sex with men (MSM) are considered by the Uganda AIDS Commission to be a “most at-risk population”, but because homosexual acts are illegal, there are no policies or services targeting HIV interventions towards them. AIDS activists say the bill would only drive an already stigmatized population further underground, leaving them even more vulnerable to HIV.
MSM are often referred to as a “bridging” population for HIV to the general population, given that many also have sex with women. According to a 2010 survey of 303 MSM in the capital Kampala by the US Centres for Disease Control, 78 percent had had sex with women while 31 percent had been married. The study also found HIV prevalence among participants was 13.7 percent, significantly higher than the city’s average rate of 8.5 percent; knowledge of the risks of HIV was also low.
Following consultations with various stakeholders, including the government, civil society and the clergy, the Committee of Parliamentary and Legal Affairs has adopted a number of amendments to the original bill, including the removal of provisions criminalizing “attempted” homosexuality and those requiring anyone who knows of homosexual conduct to report it to the police within 24 hours.
However, according to Human Rights Watch, despite Bahati and other supporters of the bill agreeing to the deletion of the bill’s “death penalty clause”, the parliamentary committee retained the death penalty for those accused of “aggravated homosexuality”, by suggesting it be redefined as “aggravated defilement”, which is also punishable by death.
The committee further recommended the creation of the new crime of conducting a marriage ceremony between persons of the same sex, punishable by three years in prison, and suggested deleting the crimes of “aiding and abetting homosexuality,” and “conspiracy to commit homosexuality”, but included a penalty of seven years in prison for “procuring homosexuality by threats”.
Bahati said he would not be pushing for the death penalty but the focus would now be primarily on targeting the “promotion” of homosexuality, which could extend to public health policies. The Most at Risk Populations’ Initiative, introduced in 2008 by the Ministry of Health to target HIV counselling and prevention toward specific populations, including MSM, could, for instance, see health practitioners and members of civil society imprisoned.
The closure of this parliament is just pressing on the pause button. I’m committed to the fight agianst behaviour and the promotion of behaviour that is going to destroy the future of our children
Bahati said the bill had the support of an overwhelming number of MPs and he expected it to be debated and passed by the end of the year. Stephen Tashobya, chairman of the Committee of Parliamentary and Legal Affairs, said the bill could, in theory, be tabled any time from next week, but that the government agenda would take precedence.
However, even if passed, the bill would require assent from President Yoweri Museveni, who holds strong views against homosexuality but amid international condemnation last year said he would not back a bill with either death penalty or “aggravated homosexuality” provisions.
Nevertheless, activists say a weaker version of the bill would retain the illegal nature of homosexuality and keep gays and lesbians in the closet while encouraging dangerous stigma against them in society. Homosexual Ugandans say they live in fear, especially following the murder of prominent gay activist David Kato in 2010 shortly after he was “outed” by a local tabloid.
HIV Prevention and Control Bill
Also left pending by the previous session of parliament and likely to be carried over into the next session is the HIV Prevention and Control Bill (2008), intended to provide a legal framework for the national response to HIV, as well as protect the rights of individuals affected by HIV. However, certain provisions – such as punishing the deliberate transmission of HIV with the death penalty – have been heavily criticized by human rights activists, who claim they would only serve to increase stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV.
Attacks on people living with HIV are also not uncommon, with several acts of aggression and murder reported in the press over the past few years.
Major Rubaramira Ruranga, executive director of the National Guidance and Empowerment Network of people living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda, says if passed, the bills would breed an environment of distrust and secrecy around an epidemic that benefits from open dialogue.
“People need to be counselled, people need to take informed decisions to disclose their HIV status,” he said. “Above all, it creates a situation where people do not want to present themselves to health institutions, even for HIV testing.”
The opposition politician and vocal HIV-positive activist said some of the two bills’ most harmful provisions were a blatant denial of human rights.
“They do not consider certain people to belong to society, they look at certain people as sinners, as criminals – and that kind of discrimination is anti-people,” Ruranga said.