Jail terms to punish “attempted” and “intentional” transmission of HIV, as well as forced HIV testing of sex crime victims, people accused of sex crimes, pregnant women and their partners and anyone who “unreasonably” withholds consent to be tested are now law in Uganda, with President Yoweri Museveni’s assent to The HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act, 2014.
The legislation, passed by Uganda’s Parliament May 13, stirred local and international concern that the criminalization of HIV transmission would discourage Ugandans from getting tested for the virus, while other provisions, including forced testing and encouraging medical providers to breach confidentiality of HIV test results violate public health principles as well as human rights. Those urging Museveni not to sign the bill into the law included local and international HIV response leaders, including a member of the Parliamentary health committee which passed the bill, who warned that “singling out HIV for criminalization will reactivate stigma and discrimination.” Among others who spoke against the bill were leaders of the Ugandan chapter of the International Community of Women Living with HIV, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Deborah Birx, and the leaders of the HIV Medicine Association and the IDSA Center for Global Health Policy, which produces this blog. In addition, leaders of HIVMA and the Center for Global Health Policy wrote to President Obama to express their concern over his invitation to Museveni to attend the African Leader’s Summit, and be his guest at the White House, while Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act was still in effect, and with the HIV criminalization bill still awaiting his signature. While a Uganda high court subsequently overturned on a technicality the Anti-Homosexuality Act which introduced life prison terms for people with HIV found guilty of homosexuality and criminalized offering support and services to gay people, Museveni has continued to mull reviving the law, with emphasis on punishing “recruitment into homosexuality.”
Museveni’s signature on the HIV criminalization law is dated July 31. While he may have signed it more recently and backdated the signature, according to an article by Buzzfeed’s J. Lester Feder, his assent came either a few days before or after the Ugandan president proudly tweeted his picture between President and Mrs. Obama at the White House.
Ugandan HIV advocacy, law and human rights organizations held a media briefing in Kampala earlier today to voice concerns about the law, explain the implications of its most damaging provisions, and to say they are exploring a legal challenge to the law.
“How can we achieve the AIDS Free Generation that government has committed to,” a release on the briefing quotes Lillian Mworeko of ICW East Africa, “when Uganda adopts such a law?”
Once hailed as a leader for its response to HIV in the mid-90s, Uganda has drawn attention in recent years for a series of attempts, and successful passages of laws that run counter to human rights and public health, including an earlier version of the HIV criminalization law, and an earlier version of the Anti-Homosexuality Law dubbed the “Kill the Gays” law because it carried a death penalty and required physicians to reveal if their patients were gay. Uganda now is one of the few countries in Southern Africa where HIV incidence continues to rise and outstrip the numbers of people initiating life-saving treatment.