There are disturbing but unconfirmed reports that people in a Ugandan district who are HIV positive are to be forced to wear uniforms so that they can be identified as carrying the virus.
Ugandan activists, including the internationally recognised human rights defender Kasha Jacqueline, have posted a picture of a local newspaper report (see left) that states:
“People living with HIV/AIDS in Ibanda district are to be given uniforms as the one way of identifying them easily. This was raised by Geoffrey Kibira, the chairperson of people living with HIV/AIDS in Ibanda.”
Comments on the Uganda Gay on Move Facebook page have equated the development to policies of the Nazis, including the uniform markings for concentration camp prisoners in the Second World War.
It is unclear in which newspaper the report was published, but the shocking news follows the passing of the HIV Prevention and Control Bill by the Ugandan Parliament earlier this month, which has been slammed by HIV/AIDS and human rights groups.
On Twitter, Jacqueline directly linked the HIV uniforms to the passing of the controversial law. “UGANDA UGANDA UGANDA. I continue to weep for my country,” she said.
The law will jail anyone found guilty of the “wilful and intentional” transmission of HIV for ten years, forces pregnant women and their partners to take HIV tests, allows health workers to disclose a patient’s positive status to others they believe are at risk and forces parents to tell their children if they are HIV positive.
Critics argue that criminalising the transmission of HIV will result in people not getting tested to avoid being found guilty of knowingly transmitting the virus to others.
“This HIV bill is yet another step backward in the fight against AIDS in Uganda,” said Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It is founded on stigma and discrimination and based on approaches that have been condemned by international health agencies as ineffective and violating the rights of people living with HIV.”
Dorah Kinconco Musinguzi, executive director of Uganda Network on Law, Ethics and HIV/AIDS (UgaNet), told IRIN news: “If we have not managed to test 67 percent of Ugandans for HIV without a law that punishes transmission, will this number improve when citizens know that more legal burdens are added to testing? The answer is no.
“Will their behaviour improve because of this fear? No. Will we have helped the HIV situation then? No. We shall have more people transmit HIV in ignorance of their status. Laws do little to change behaviour, instead it takes behaviour underground,” she said.
The bill is awaiting the signature of President Museveni after which it will become law. Musinguzi called on the president not to sign the bill and “instead ensure a rights-based approach, recognising that people living with HIV will prevent transmission if they are empowered and supported.”
Museveni’s approval of the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill earlier this year, however, suggests that he is more than willing to disregard human rights concerns when it comes to discriminatory legislation.