Ugandans act on East African Parliament’s proposed ‘gay-friendly’ HIV Bill

Kikonyogo Kivumbi reports on Behind the Mask:

Gay rights activists in Uganda have started consultations with HIV/Aids and human rights organisations about the proposed East African Community HIV and Aids Prevention and Management Bill, 2010.

The activists have been spurred by the fact that the East African Community Council (EAC) of Legal and Judicial Affairs will be meeting next week to develop opinion on the gay friendly East African HIV/Aids bill and advise their home governments.

The meeting taking place in Arusha, Tanzania will be attended by the Attorneys General and Justice Ministers of the five East African Community member countries of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.

The outcomes shall set discussions for the EAC Council of Ministers set for the second week of November which will be attended by amongst others Uganda’s Minister for EAC Eriya Kategaya. The ministers will be expected to make executive recommendations to the bill which will be tabled in March 2012.

Julius Sabuni, a member of the Eastern African National Networks of Aids Service Organisations, a consortium of regional national organisations said on Thursday in Kampala that activists from the region should get ready for the processes to influence a positive agenda. He said when the bill is adopted and passed by the five countries, it will take precedence over national HIV/Aids legal frameworks.

For this to happen though, Kabumba Busingye, a Ugandan lecturer of law and gay rights advocate said national parliaments will have to ratify the East African bill and synchronise it with local law. He said as the bill is gay rights friendly, activists in Uganda should engage in advocacy to ensure that Uganda is able to agree to the bill, but also ratify it when it is tabled next year. Kabumba said gay activists should ensure Uganda does not oppose the gay text in the bill.

Mary Kamukama, an activist with the Ugandan Health Rights Action Group warned, “We should be careful here. Uganda is fond of partial ratification of laws in East Africa, say the customs Union. We need to ensure criminalization we oppose in Ugandan HIV bill is ratified by Ugandan Parliament when finally adopted.”

The gay activists are spearheaded by Uhspa Uganda together with the Uganda Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, a grouping of 33 gay friendly activists and organisations.

The position they agree on will be presented to Ugandan Minister or East African Cooperation and Uganda’s legislators at the East African Assembly in Arusha.

The draft bill indicates that the five member countries of the block want to drop criminalization of HIV/Aids spread in their country specific laws, while adopting a human rights based approach to fighting the pandemic.

The proposed bill will synchronize a regional approach to HIV/Aids programming. Mr Sabuni said he was happy that although the bill was initially proposed by CSOs in the region, it has been picked up by the executive in the regional governments.

The proposed non-criminalization of HIV/Aids and fostering provision of information to all people in the region, without any discrimination has won the hearts of some HIV/Aids activists and lobby groups in Uganda.

Ugandan HIV/Aids activists spent most of last year lobbying Parliament to drop criminalization of HIV in the country’s HIV/Aids Control Bill 2010. Gay activists and pressure groups also petitioned Ugandan parliament, demanding streamlining of gays rights to health in the Ugandan HIV/Aids Control Bill 2010. The Ugandan HIV Bill expired in the last Parliament, but is likely to be tabled again before Parliament breaks off for the Christmas holiday this year.

Gay activists, HIV/Aids and human rights groups are looking at the East African HIV Bill critically as it will have over bearing influence on the Ugandan HIV Bill when it comes to Parliament for debate.

Dorah Kyomukama, the Executive Director of Uganda Network on Law, on Law and Ethics said the bill was good for Uganda, especially removing criminalization in national legal frameworks.

Prossy Ssonko, a board member of LGBTI lobby group, Uhspa Uganda said, “The language of the bill seems promising to gay rights to health.”

She added that the bill has a likelihood that homosexuals will be included in information sharing, and access to vital supplies for HIV prevention, care, support and treatment.

Ssonko said “But the language is still vague. All LGBTI activists in the East African region need to take interest in the bill to make the language gay specific and friendly.”

Part of the bill refers to how vulnerable and marginalized groups will be reached if the bill is passed. It reads in part, “Vulnerable or marginalized groups in relation to HIV and Aids, means any group whose members may have special needs or may experience poorer outcomes if their needs are not specially addressed and includes persons with disabilities, children, women and girls, persons engaging in any form of consensual sexual conduct that is risky or that is prohibited by or under any law, injecting drug users, refugees, immigrants, prisoners, internally displaced persons and mobile populations.”

The bill also talks about “Outlawing HIV related discrimination, promote the acceptance of persons living with HIV and members of vulnerable and marginalized groups; and devise appropriate messages and strategies targeting vulnerable and marginalized groups; present messages in formats that facilitate the inclusion of the different categories of persons with disability.”

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