Burundi activists seek internal solution to new law on homosexual acts

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HIV groups in the African nation of Burundi have met with the country’s health minister to discuss parliamentary moves to criminalise homosexual acts.

George Kanuma of the Association National de Soutien aux Séropositifs et aux malades du Sida, who is also chair of gay rights group ARDHO (Association pour le Respect et les Droits des Homosexuels), has requested a suspension of international actions for the moment as they attempt internal solutions.

“I thank you for solidarity in this terrible period for our homosexual community,” he said in an email to supporters.

There seems to be agreement from health officials and HIV activists that the move to criminalise gay sex would hamper the fight against AIDS.

The National Assembly of Burundi passed a law on Friday making same-sex acts punishable by between three months and two years in prison, along with a substantial fine.

The Senate may vote on the bill in the coming days.

Burundi – a small country in the Great Lakes region of Eastern Africa bordered by Rwanda to the north, Tanzania to the south and east, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west – has been locked in an ethnically-based conflict for much of its post-independence history.

A negotiated peace settlement, brokered with the assistance of a number of African states, has led to the installation of a multi-party government. The last few years have seen a certain level of reconstruction in the country, increased stability and the emergence of a nascent civil society.