The AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA), a partnership of over 60 African civil society organisations, calls on African governments to protect and promote the human rights of underserved populations including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people as well as sex workers and people who inject drugs, as they mark World AIDS Day on 1 December under the theme ‘Getting to Zero – Zero New Infections, Zero Discrimination, Zero AIDS-related deaths’.
In particular, the partnership calls on President Museveni of Uganda to take leadership and veto the passing of the Anti Homosexuality Bill tabled for discussion in the Ugandan Parliament. This Bill was introduced in 2009 and re-tabled earlier this year. The Speaker of Parliament recently promised to pass the bill before the end of 2013 as “a Christmas gift to Uganda”.
“On the eve of World AIDS Day we call on President Museveni to do the right thing and protect the rights of every Ugandan citizen as guaranteed in the Ugandan Constitution, regardless of their race, religion, economic standing or sexual orientation,” said Michaela Clayton, director of ARASA. Recenecent reports by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) have documented a more than 50% reduction in the rate of new HIV infections across 25 low- and middle-income countries––more than half in Africa, the region most affected by HIV. However, these figures reflect an effective response in terms of prevention and treatment for relatively ‘easy to reach groups’ such as people in heterosexual relationships. “Unfortunately, we are not going to make real progress in ending AIDS unless we get to the ‘hard to reach’ members of underserved populations,” elaborated Clayton. Misguided laws and punitive policies, based on fear and prejudice and not on scientific evidence, fuel the HIV epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa by presenting additional barriers to reaching marginalised and most at risk groups. “Acknowledging the existence of LGBTI people in Uganda, and providing supportive measures to assist them to make informed choices regarding their sexual health is the only responsible way forward in the HIV prevention,” urges Clayton. The controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill provides for a life sentence for people who are guilty of “the act of homosexuality” and “aggravated homosexuality”, where living with HIV is an aggravating factor. In addition, organizations that “promote homosexuality” can have their registration revoked and their directors imprisoned. According to ARASA, the proposed Bill – if enacted into law – will threaten the achievements of Uganda in its response to HIV over the last 25 years and as such goes against its purported aim of protecting the Ugandan people. The law will violate basic human rights, including the rights of people in same sex relations, especially those living with HIV. It will not only undermine proven prevention, treatment and care efforts targeted at underserved populations such as men who have sex with men, but will also place them at greater risk.
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