Country’s president urged to reject bill and base policies on “science rather than prejudice”
International organisations fighting HIV/Aids have slammed a proposed law that bans homosexuality in Uganda.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023 was passed by the Ugandan parliament on 21 March and now awaits the signature of president Yoweri Museveni.
As well as criminalising homosexual acts, the bill outlines stiff fines or prison sentences for those “promoting” or “aiding and abetting” homosexuality—which could include health or research organisations that target men who have sex with men.
The International Aids Society said the bill was “wholly incompatible” with an effective HIV/Aids response. In a statement, it called on Museveni to scrap the bill “and ground Uganda’s laws and policies in science rather than prejudice”.
UNAids, the UN programme combating HIV/Aids, said the bill, if enacted, would have “extremely damaging consequences”.
The Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria said it was “deeply troubled” by anti-gay laws wherever they were implemented around the world. “Criminalising sexual orientation denies people access to health services and thus makes them more vulnerable to diseases,” it said.
Men who have sex with men are an important target population for HIV/Aids interventions around the world. In 2021, more than half of new HIV infections in central, eastern, southern and western Africa occurred among men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, trans people and sex workers.
Banning homosexuality raises HIV infection risks among men who have sex with men. A study published in The Lancet in January found that criminalising homosexuality was associated with a fivefold higher HIV rate among men who have sex with men in Africa. Recent prosecutions more than doubled that risk again.
The bill includes under the “promotion of homosexuality” anyone who funds or sponsors homosexuality or related activities or who produces “pornographic material”. The punishment is a fine of up to US$27,000 or up to five years in prison.
Earlier anti-gay laws in Uganda have not been enacted—a 2014 law was struck down by a court on procedural grounds, and in 2021 Museveni rejected the country’s Sexual Offences Bill and returned it to parliament, stating its provisions were covered by existing legislation.
UNAids said the new bill “stands in marked contrast to a positive wave of decriminalisation taking place in Africa and across the world, in which harmful punitive colonial legislation is being removed in country after country”.
“It is not too late for this bill to be rejected and lives to be saved,” UNAids said.