Uganda's Draft "Anti-Homosexuality" Bill: PEPFAR Funding in Jeopardy?

Right now, in Uganda, the Parliament is considering an "Anti-Homosexuality" Bill that, if passed, would be one of the world's most draconian laws against homosexuality—and a horrifying violation of human rights. Uganda, once the darling of international AIDS circles for its efforts to stop the pandemic, is now becoming a pariah for even considering this bill, which includes the death penalty for "aggrevated homosexuality."So what is behind this bill–and how will US policy makers, who sent about $300 million to Uganda last year alone in AIDS funding– respond?


Uganda’s “Anti-Homosexuality” Bill sponsored by Hon. Bahati was tabled in Parliament on October 14, 2009. The public outcry has been global in scope, as governments, human rights organizations, churches, and other activist community groups and individuals have voiced severe criticism of the draft Bill.At present, Section 145 of Uganda’s Penal Code, states that an individual who has “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” engages in an “unnatural offence” and is liable to criminal charges. Section 2.1 in the Bill’s Memorandum refers to Section 145 of the Penal Code, as a provision that does not effectively “charge, investigate, prosecute, convict and sentence” homosexuals. The proposed Bill heightens the severity of criminal charges against homosexuality, prohibiting the free expression of gay and lesbian life in Uganda. The Bill’s objectives prohibit the licensing of human rights organizations that “promote homosexuality” and the ratification of international treaties that promote freedoms contrary to the Bill’s provisions. The Bill legalizes the death penalty in cases of “aggravated homosexuality,” and considers individuals who fail to report of fences and uphold their "duty" to report suspected cases to be complicit in fostering homosexuality and thus liable to criminal charges.Hon. Bahati, a member of the U.S. "fundamentalist group" The Family, has proposed a Bill that would require Uganda to withdraw from many UN agreements including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He has drafted a document that violates multiple articles of Uganda’s 1995 Constitution, such as Article 20 that states “fundamental rights and freedoms are inherent and not granted by the State.” Ugandan President?Yoweri Museveni's unresponsiveness to criticisms of the Bill, sponsored by a member of his own political party, has signaled to the international community that Uganda’s obligation to uphold international human rights standards is not merely lacking in substantive practice yet not taken seriously as the universal standard to which all countries should realize in drafting domestic law.

Commonwealth Response

The Prime Ministers of Canada and Britain have publically opposed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill at this year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), where President Museveni served as Chairman. The CHOGM, which closed on November 29, has released a list of meeting outcomes which includes the “Trinidad and Tobago Affirmation on Commonwealth Values and Principles”.?? In Section 5, the Commonwealth countries reaffirm their “belief in the inalienable right of the individual to participate by means of free and democratic political processes in shaping the society in which they live”.? Uganda can be suspended or expelled from the Commonwealth if its Parliament passes the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.


Uganda’s Parliament took another public hit, as U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, made a statement on the Obama Administration’s efforts to combat HIV/AIDS in anticipation of World AIDS Day. Clinton remarked,

Obviously, our efforts are hampered whenever discrimination or marginalization of certain populations results in less effective outreach and treatment…We have to stand against any efforts to marginalize and criminalize and penalize members of the LGBT community worldwide. It is an unacceptable step backwards – (applause) – on behalf of human rights. But it is also a step that undermines the effectiveness of efforts to fight the disease worldwide.

Ambassador Eric Goosby, commented on Clinton’s statement in the State Department's Official Blog, considering her words to “affirm America’s leadership in the fight against global AIDS”. According to Metro Weekly, Goosby remarked at the same White House event that “[PEPFAR will] support policy change to address discrimination, including – as the Secretary noted earlier – the situation in Uganda”. ?While Goosby failed to provide a response strategy if Uganda passes the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, when prompted by a reporter in a Special Briefing the next day, there is well-founded speculation that Uganda’s PEPFAR funding will be under review if the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is passed.In that event, no one wins. The Ugandan people are at risk of being subject to a law that wholly disregards the universal standard of an individual’s freedoms and rights—a law that breeds stigma and discrimination, which in turn fuels the AIDS epidemic. As a result, Ugandans may very well ALSO suffer from the international community’s decision to review and potentially suspend aid that would otherwise support both good AIDS programs and ones founded on discriminatory practices. It is the ultimate catch-22–with people living with AIDS caught in the middle of the Ugandan government's bigotry and donor government's need to take a stand against that same bigotry—by possibly cutting off services for the most vulnerable.We'll keep you posted on this bill, and the US and international response. In the meantime, take a stand. Leave Secretary? Clinton a message at 202-647-6575? or send her a text at 90822 and tell her to hold the Ugandan government to account for this discriminatory bill, and to demand the nation's leaders to shelve the horrific "anti-homosexuality" bill.

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