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Anti-Homosexuality Bill threatens fight against HIV in Uganda, warns UN expert on health

GENEVA (22 January 2010) - The UN Special Rapporteur on health, Anand Grover, warned Friday that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill being considered by the Ugandan Parliament is “not only a violation of the fundamental human rights of Ugandans, but will also undermine efforts to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.”

“Lessons from the last 30 years of the HIV epidemic have shown us that recognition of the rights of people with different sexual identities is a necessary component for a successful HIV and health response,” stressed the UN expert. “In many countries where sex between men is not criminalized and where stigma and discrimination have been reduced, men who have sex with men are more likely to take up HIV prevention, care and support and treatment services.”

“I urge the Ugandan Parliament to build on its past successes in responding to HIV and to refrain from passing this Bill,” said Mr. Grover, while strongly supporting the President and other members of the Government in their attempts to prevent the initiative of some members of the Parliament that the bill becoming law. “Uganda is in the great danger of taking a step backwards – away from realizing human rights for its people and away from an effective, evidence and rights-based HIV response.”

The Special Rapporteur on health stressed that a number of UN human rights conventions ban discrimination on grounds of sexual identity or orientation, and laws that criminalize homosexual acts between consenting adults violate the right to privacy.

Homosexuality is already criminalized through Uganda’s existing penal code, but the proposed Bill will increase penalties for homosexual conduct and will criminalize many related activities, such as the ‘promotion of homosexuality.’ By including the publication and dissemination of materials, funding and sponsoring related activities, and any attempts to ‘promote or abet homosexuality,’ these provisions could affect the work of civil society actors and human rights defenders addressing issues of sexual orientation or gender identity, which are crucial to addressing vulnerability to HIV.

The Bill also criminalizes failure to report any relevant offences. It therefore compels citizens – including health workers and civil society organizations active in HIV prevention and human rights– to report to the authorities anyone whom they suspect of being homosexual. Furthermore, the Bill would result in the punishment of ‘serial offenders’ and those who are living with HIV, with the death penalty.

Anand Grover was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health by the United Nations Human Rights Council, in June 2008. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Mr. Grover, a practicing lawyer in the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court of India, is Director of the Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS in India and serves as member of various renowned health boards.