African HIV experts are calling on Uganda to legalise homosexuality

LGBT+ refugees from South Sudan, Uganda and DR Congo walking to the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Kenya to demand protection

Four leading African HIV experts are calling on the government in Uganda to decriminalise homosexuality in order to tackle the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.

Serge Paul Eholié from Côte d’Ivoire, Keletso Makofane from Harvard University, James G. Hakim from Zimbabwe and Kenneth Ngure from Kenya issued a statement following the introduction of the ‘Kill the Gays’ bill last month.

Their joint statement published by Star Observer warns that criminalising homosexuality is counterproductive to efforts to control the spread of HIV in the country, which has one of the highest rates of infection.

“Criminalising LGBT people and other key populations is utterly incompatible with the mandates of an effective HIV response,” the experts write.

“In 2018, men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, sex workers and transgender people, together with their partners, accounted for a majority of new HIV infections, underscoring the need for governments to work with, not against, these communities who are most vulnerable to HIV.”

They describe Uganda’s ‘Kill the Gays’ bill as a “serious threat to human rights” which is at odds with the country’s long-established commitment not to discriminate or stigmatise its HIV positive population.

“The proposed legislation is contrary to Uganda’s National HIV/AIDS Strategic Plan which aims to achieve ‘zero discrimination’ and to ‘institute and strengthen anti-stigma and discrimination programmes’, with particular attention to the needs of key populations, such as men who have sex with men,” the statement continues.

A lab technician draws blood from a patient for HIV testing in Kampala, Uganda (ISAAC KASAMANI/AFP/Getty)

“We know from experience how devastating stigma and discrimination can be for the most marginalised people. Around the time of the announcement of the legislation, Brian Wasswa, a member of the Ugandan LGBT community, was brutally attacked and murdered – he is one of four community members who have been attacked in the past three months.”

Uganda later did a U-turn on the bill and said it would not be implementing the death penalty for gay sex, although all homosexual activity is still criminalised and carries a potential penalty of life imprisonment.

“We are encouraged that the office of the President has denied plans to re-submit the bill,” the experts note.

“We ask the government to openly condemn all forms of violence and discrimination against LGBT people, conduct a thorough and expedited investigation into these recent killings, and aggressively prosecute all persons involved in inciting violence towards LGBT people.”