African HIV/AIDS activists have called on African governments to protect and promote the human rights of LGBT people as they mark World AIDS Day on 1 December under the theme ‘Getting to Zero – Zero New Infections, Zero Discrimination, Zero AIDS-related deaths’.

In a statement, the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA), a partnership of over 60 African civil society organisations, urged President Museveni of Uganda to veto the passing of the Anti Homosexuality Bill tabled for discussion in the Ugandan Parliament.

“On the eve of World AIDS Day we call on President Museveni to do the right thing and protect the rights of every Ugandan citizen as guaranteed in the Ugandan Constitution, regardless of their race, religion, economic standing or sexual orientation,” said Michaela Clayton, director of ARASA.

Misguided laws and punitive policies, based on fear and prejudice and not on scientific evidence, fuel the HIV epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa by presenting additional barriers to reaching marginalised and most at risk groups, said the organisations.

“Acknowledging the existence of LGBTI people in Uganda, and providing supportive measures to assist them to make informed choices regarding their sexual health is the only responsible way forward in the HIV prevention,” urged Clayton.

The controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill provides for a life sentence for people who are guilty of “the act of homosexuality” and “aggravated homosexuality”, where living with HIV is an aggravating factor. In addition, organisations that “promote homosexuality” can have their registration revoked and their directors imprisoned.

The Bill will have direct democratic and public health effects. Civil society organisations will no longer be able to legally advocate for the rights of or even disseminate health information for men and women engaging in same sex relations.

“Provisions in the Bill that make it an offence to ‘promote’ homosexuality place unacceptable limitations on the rights to freedom of expression and association,” explained Clayton. “The Bill will effectively allow the government to shut down civil society organisations and media houses that engage in any activities that are deemed to support ‘homosexuality and related activities’.”

According to ARASA, the proposed Bill – if enacted into law – will threaten the achievements of Uganda in its response to HIV over the last 25 years and as such goes against its purported aim of protecting the Ugandan people. The law will violate basic human rights, including the rights of people in same-sex relations, especially those living with HIV. It will not only undermine proven prevention, treatment and care efforts targeted at underserved populations such as men who have sex with men, but will also place them at greater risk.

“Reaching zero new infections and zero AIDS related deaths is possible, but only if there is zero discrimination. Punitive laws have been proven to exacerbate discrimination, are wasting money and clearly undermine the progress made against HIV”, added Clayton.

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