Wednesday, February 17, 2010

UN Expert Says Uganda's "Kill the Gays" Legislation Will Endanger Public Health

The so-called ‘Anti-Homosexuality Bill’ under consideration by the Ugandan Parliament not only violates the fundamental human rights of Ugandans, but will also impede efforts to combat HIV, a United Nations independent expert warned.

“Uganda is in great danger of taking a step backwards – away from realizing human rights for its people and away from an effective, evidence and rights-based HIV response,” stressed Anand Grover, the Special Rapporteur on health.

Lessons from the past three decades of the HIV epidemic have shown that recognizing the rights of people with different sexual identities is a crucial element of efforts to respond to the virus, he said.

In many nations where sex between men is not criminalized and where both stigma and discrimination have been eased, men who have sex with men are more likely to pursue HIV prevention, care, support and treatment services, Mr. Anand emphasized.

“I urge the Ugandan Parliament to build on its past successes in responding to HIV and to refrain from passing this bill,” he said, noting that several UN human rights conventions ban discrimination on the grounds of sexual identity or orientation.

Further, laws criminalizing homosexual acts between consenting adults also infringes on the right to privacy, the expert pointed out.

Homosexuality is already criminalized through Uganda’s existing penal code, but the new bill – which was tabled by a Parliament member and is due to be put before the entire legislative body later this month – prohibits any form of sexual relations between people of the same sex, as well as the promotion or recognition of homosexual relations as a healthy or acceptable lifestyle in public institutions.

Since the bill would also include the publication of materials which ‘promote or abet homosexuality,’ Mr. Anand cautioned that it could impact the work of civil society actors and human rights defenders working on issues of sexual orientation or gender identity, which are essential to addressing vulnerability to HIV.

The new legislation also criminalizes failure to report relevant offenses, in effect compelling citizens, including health workers and civil society organizations, to report anyone they suspect of being homosexual to the authorities.

Those deemed to be ‘serial offenders’ and those living with HIV could receive the death penalty, the Special Rapporteur said.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has also spoken out against the bill.  “It is extraordinary to find legislation like this being proposed more than 60 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – as well as many subsequent international laws and standards – made it clear this type of discrimination is unacceptable,” Navi Pillay said.  Describing the bill as “blatantly discriminatory,” she said that, if passed, it would have “a tremendously negative impact on the enjoyment of a range of fundamental human rights by homosexuals, lesbians and transgendered individuals, as well as on parents, teachers, landlords, human rights defenders, medical professionals and HIV workers.”

The High Commissioner added that she was “encouraged” by the fact that a number of Ugandan civil society groups were actively opposing the bill, and by the recent statement by President Museveni, reported in the Ugandan press, which appeared to suggest the Government would intervene to prevent the draft bill from becoming law.

(adapted from a UN Press Release)

“This is the only responsible course of action for a government to take in such circumstances,” she said, while also urging the Government repeal existing Ugandan laws that criminalize homosexuality, albeit with less severe punishments.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/international_law/2010/02/un-expert-says-ugandas-kill-the-gays-legislation-will-endanger-public-health.html

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