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Plea to U.N. for health warning about Uganda anti-gay bill

Anand Grover, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health
Anand Grover, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health

Nearly 100 organizations promoting health and human rights filed an urgent appeal Dec. 10 with United Nations public health expert Anand Grover, urging him to investigate how Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill would affect the fight against AIDS.

“We are gravely concerned that this bill, if passed, would do grievous harm to the health of all Ugandans,” said Moses Mulumba, executive director of the group’s lead organization, the Uganda-based Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD).  “In the case of HIV, other countries have sought out vulnerable populations with services and support and are reporting declining rates of new HIV infections. But Uganda’s HIV incidence is rising—and we believe our harmful legal and policy environment is a contributing factor to the deteriorating HIV response.”

Homosexual activity is already a criminal offense in Uganda and the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, expected to be voted on soon in parliament, would impose stricter punishments and widespread requirements for reporting suspected homosexuals to police.

CEHURD and 97 other health and human-rights organizations, most of them Ugandan, asked Grover, as U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, to investigate the likely effects of enacting the bill. They stated that:

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill will have a disastrous impact on access to essential health services as well as to accurate public health information and would drive lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities further underground—out of fear of massive recrimination and further criminalization.

Even discussing the health rights of LGBTI persons would be considered “promotion of homosexuality” and would be criminalized.

Professional health workers and counselors would be forced to violate their basic ethical obligations not to discriminate against patients and not to break confidentiality—if information was passed to them about a patient being an LGBTI person.

The appeal to Grover stated, “A recent study in Uganda showed that rates of HIV among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Kampala are about twice the national average of 7.3%, and MSM who have experienced verbal or physical homophobic abuse are 5 times more likely to be HIV positive than MSM who have not experienced such abuse.”

The organizations said the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is apparently being used to distract attention from government corruption, which has become so extreme that several countries have suspended foreign aid to Uganda, including money for health programs.

Rebecca Kadaga, speaker of Ugandan parliament
Rebecca Kadaga, speaker of Ugandan parliament

“It appears that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is being used to try to distract from massive government corruption scandals in the Ministry of Public Service, the Office of the Prime Minister, and elsewhere,” said Alice Kayongo of the Community Health Alliance Uganda. “The Rt. Hon. Speaker of Parliament [Rebecca Kadaga] says she would like to deliver this Bill as a ‘Christmas present’ to Ugandans—but we want a real Christmas present: a Parliament that tackles massive theft of public funds, rather than scapegoating marginalized populations with a harmful bill that would undermine public health and human rights.”

Donors that have suspended foreign aid to Uganda include the United Kingdom, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, the European Union, the World Bank, Austria,
and Belgium.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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