Uganda is under fire for another proposed law, one that HIV/AIDS activist and human rights organisations have criticised as only making it harder to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS.
The HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Bill “promotes dangerous and discredited approaches to the AIDS epidemic and would violate human rights”, a group of more than 50 Ugandan and international organisations and individuals said in a new report.
The report criticises repressive provisions in the legislation as contrary to the goal of universal access to HIV prevention, care, and treatment. The proposed law includes mandatory testing for HIV and forced disclosure of HIV status. It also criminalises the wilful transmission of HIV, the failure to “observe instructions on prevention and treatment,” and misleading statements on preventing or controlling HIV.
“We know what works and what doesn’t in fighting HIV,” said Beatrice Were of the Uganda Network on Law, Ethics & HIV/AIDS. “This bill, unfortunately, is full of ineffective approaches that violate human rights and will set us back in our efforts to fight the AIDS epidemic and expand HIV programs nationwide.”
Citing international standards and “best practices,” the report says that mandatory testing and criminal penalties can be counterproductive, driving people away from testing and treatment.
The report highlights how laws that criminalise HIV transmission can result in disproportionate prosecution of women. Women’s inability to safely negotiate condom use or disclosure to partners who might have been the source of their infection is not recognized in the bill as defences against criminal penalties. Women who transmit HIV to their infants after birth via breast milk would also be subject to criminal prosecution, the report says.
The bill would also criminalise a wide and ill-defined range of conduct, such as discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS and breach of confidentiality. According to the report, criminalising such a wide range of actions opens the door for the government to prosecute people in selective or abusive ways.
Uganda has recently also been criticised for another proposed law which aims to further criminalise homosexuality and anyone lobbying for, writing about or supporting LGBT rights in the country.
The report expresses concern that the proposed HIV/AIDS law, combined with the anti-gay bill, is adding to a body of repressive criminal law in Uganda, asserting that these laws make it more difficult for civil society and non-governmental organisations to conduct effective programs with stigmatised communities.