GENEVA – The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is calling on Uganda to amend a bill banning same-sex relationships that seeks to violate human rights standards and undermine public health.
The law, which the Ugandan Parliament passed last week but is not yet final, has been in development since 2015 and has seen several significant changes. Human rights officials say they are deeply concerned by this recent iteration that would criminalize entire groups of people.
Under the bill, they state that consensual same-sex relationships would be severely punished, as would sex workers and those infected with HIV.
A spokesman for UN High Commissioner Rupert Colville notes that same-sex consensual relations law’s sentence has been reduced to 10 years in prison instead of life imprisonment. Still, he says, the Sexual Offenses Act raises serious human rights concerns.
“The fact remains that such relationships are still criminalized. This is in a country where stigma, discrimination and violence against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity are widespread and often committed with impunity as victims are often too afraid to report an attack on them, “he said.
Colville says other alarming provisions in the law include compulsory and enforced HIV testing of defendants.
“Not only do such regulations violate Uganda’s human rights obligations, but they can also undermine public health, causing people to fear reporting for essential tests and treatment, and undermining critical HIV prevention and treatment efforts. You also risk further fueling HIV in Uganda and sub-Saharan Africa, “he said.
UNAIDS, the joint UN program on HIV / AIDS, fears that fighting HIV-positive people underground will undo much of the progress Uganda has made in reducing the effects of the disease. Since 2010, deaths from AIDS have decreased by 60% and new HIV infections have decreased by 43%.
Colville said the bill provides much-needed protection from sexual violence, which women’s groups and gender-based violence groups have been advocating for some time. However, the draft law in general does not comply with international laws and standards and needs to be changed.