Uganda is facing a serious threat to human rights and the HIV response with the announcement of plans to introduce legislation that will impose the death penalty on people found to have had sex with a member of their own sex or to have “promoted” homosexuality.
The Ugandan Minister of Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lokodo, announced the plans on Thursday, 10 October, arguing that “homosexuality is not natural to Ugandans” and that stiffer penalties are needed to prevent the “recruitment” of young people into homosexuality. He asserted that the legislation has the support of President Yoweri Museveni.
The bill is an expansion of a previous one that was passed five years ago and subsequently invalidated on a technicality. The latest bill would extend penalties to “promotion” of homosexuality, broadening the scope to target human rights and health advocates for the LGBT community.
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.
We know from experience how devastating stigma and discrimination can be for the most marginalized 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.
Top African scientists have definitively debunked that homosexuality is unnatural in Uganda and that people can be recruited to become LGBT. According to a 2015 report published by the Academy of Science of South Africa, as well as the Uganda National Academy of Sciences, “there is substantial biological evidence for the diversity of human sexualities and for sexual orientations in particular”.
As scientists who are active members of the African Governing Council of the International AIDS Society, we urge Uganda to ground its laws and policies in science rather than prejudice.
Criminalizing LGBT people and other key populations is utterly incompatible with the mandates of an effective HIV response. 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.
We are encouraged that the office of the President has denied plans to re-submit the bill. 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. We urge the Government of Uganda to join Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique and South Africa in unshackling our continent from discrimination by decriminalizing same-sex activity.
IAS Governing Council Africa Regional Representatives
Serge Paul Eholié
Unit of Infectious and Tropical Diseases
University Teaching Hospital
TH Chan School of Public Health
677 Huntington Ave
Boston, MA 02115
James G. Hakim
Department of Medicine
University of Zimbabwe
PO Box A178
School of Public Health,
Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology
PO Box 62000-00200 Nairobi