Nigerian official who called anti-gay law “democracy in action” served on International AIDS Society’s governing council

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When Nigeria acting Secretary of Foreign Affairs Viola Onwuliri defended President Goodluck Jonathan’s signature on the country’s brutal new anti-homosexuality law, the couple of weeks preceding had to have been a tough time to answer for her country.

The law, for reasons obvious to donors, doctors, advocates and others involved in global efforts to combat HIV, had met international condemnation from national leaders and international agencies galvanized not only by the human rights setback the law represented, but the damage it would do to work to combat the second largest HIV epidemic in the world. The new law, after all, would bring arrests and imprisonment not only to people who already had both high risks of acquiring HIV and low access to essential services to prevent and treat the illness, but also threatened those who would provide those services. With reports of arrests beginning immediately, when Canadian officials reportedly cancelled a planned state visit by Jonathan to their country, it was Onwuliri’s responsibility to both receive the news, and discuss it with journalists, according to reports.

Still, when Onwuliri called the new law “democracy in action,” her stance was at odds with another responsibility she had  taken on, when from 2008 to 2010 she sat on the governing board of the International AIDS Society, which, during that time, issued strong statements against Uganda’s proposed anti-homosexuality law and similarly spirited laws, and has since has gone on record opposing the Nigeria law (for the IAS statement go here). Omwuliri’s bio on the IAS site is filled with other HIV response credentials. including work with AIDS Prevention Initiative of Nigeria, and touts that group’s work with the Harvard School of Public Health.


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