Uganda Parliament committee tries again with bill that would criminalize HIV prevention services

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“An act to prohibit the promotion of unnatural sexual practices; to criminalise funding for purposes of promoting unnatural sexual practices . . .”

UGANDA DraftBillThe latest draft of a bill targeting “unnatural sexual practices” from a Uganda Parliament committee seeking to replace the country’s nullified Anti-Homosexality Act would punish “anyone providing premises, distributing textual or visual material or any other means to interest a person in unnatural sexual practices . . .” with up to seven years in prison. With  the definition of “unnatural sexual practice” including “between persons of the same sex, or with or between transexual person [sic], a sexual act with an animal, and anal sex . . .” and the definition of “sexual act” including “the unlawful use of any object or organ by a person on another persons sexual organ,” it is a proposal both painstakingly specific and sweepingly broad. The draft, posted by BuzzFeed’s Lester Feder, and  procured by the attorney whose argument led a high court to overturn the last law in August, may never go before the full parliament, and if it does, would still require Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s signature. But with its emphasis on “promotion” it both meets criteria that Museveni has indicated he would approve, and would appear to reauthorize the type of police activity that led to the raid and closing of the U.S. funded Walter Reed Program, which in turn led the services it provided to men who have sex with men to be dispersed. It also indicates that of all of the arguments against previous attempts by the Ugandan Parliament and president to enshrine homophobia into law, the one that still hasn’t been effectively communicated is the laws’ impact on the country’s losing battle against its HIV epidemic.

The drafting of the proposed law, and its publication overlap with news of efforts in other places targeting the impact of HIV on men who have sex with men, and other sexual minorities. They include the release this week by APCOM and Australian AID of a brief highlighting applications of the World Health Organization’s Consolidated Guidelines on HIV Prevention, Diagnosis, Treatment and Care for Key Populations  for men who have sex with men and transgender individuals. It emphasizes access to condoms and condom-compatible lubricants, syringe provision for transgender individuals who inject hormones, provision of information to increase awareness of risks, and, of course, addressing discriminatory laws and practices standing between men who have sex with men and services. At the same time, the Global Forum on MSM and HIV — MSMGF — released an update on a series of meetings with U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Deborah Birx on challenges in addressing those and other needs of men who have sex with men through the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The update on discussions, which focused on greater civil society involvement, and increased resources for relevant interventions, concluded “Ambassador Birx continues to prove herself a passionate and committed ally to key populations globally.”

All of which raises the question of whether the Uganda Parliament committee’s proposed law, which would criminalize “publication, printing, broadcasting or distribution of any document or information intended or likely to facilitate engaging in unnatural sexual practices,” as well as anyone funding those endeavors, would reward the leaders of global health responses for their efforts with prison time.

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