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U.S. Pressure against Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill rises as Ugandan, American human rights activists testify before Congress

(WASHINGTON D.C.) Ugandan and American human rights activists yesterday came together to testify against the proposed Uganda "Anti-Homosexuality Bill" at a hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. Congress. The hearing is the latest in a series of actions by the U.S. government to signal its disapproval of the measure under consideration in the Ugandan parliament.

The "Anti-Homosexuality Bill," introduced in the Ugandan parliament last October, would increase the penalty for "same-sex sexual acts" to life in prison, limit the distribution of information on HIV through a provision criminalizing the "promotion of homosexuality," and establish the crime of "aggravated homosexuality" punishable by death for anyone in Uganda who is HIV positive and has consensual same-sex relations. Further, the bill includes a provision that could lead to the imprisonment for up to three years of anyone who fails to report within 24 hours the identities of everyone they know who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender to the government.

"The bill does not only affect homosexual Ugandans, it affects all Ugandans," said American Jewish World Service (AJWS) grantee Julius Kaggwa, a leader of the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law in Uganda. "We believe that the character of our country, and of the rights afforded its citizens, is at stake."

In addition to Kaggwa, witnesses at the hearing included Deputy Assistant Secretary Karl Wycoff (U.S. Department of State), Cary Alan Johnson (International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission), Reverend Kapya Kaoma (Political Research Associates) and Christine Lubinski (HIV Medicine Association, Infectious Diseases Society of America).

"Ensuring human rights for sexual minorities is perhaps the truest barometer of the full integration of human rights principles in a society, because their enshrinement in law and integration into societal norms and practices are not always a matter of popular opinion," said Johnson.

The Uganda bill is part of a disturbing trend on the continent and worldwide. In the last three years, five African countries have moved to strengthen criminal penalties against LGBT people. In addition to human rights and global health groups, a large number of U.S. faith groups have spoken out in opposition to the bill, including Catholic, Evangelical, mainline Protestant and Jewish organizations. The timing for a parliamentary vote on the legislation in Ugandan is unclear as international outcry over the bill has created divisions among its supporters in the country.

"Stigma already poses a formidable barrier to HIV services for persons living with or at risk of HIV in Uganda and elsewhere in southern Africa. This law, if enacted, would render every person with HIV a potential criminal," said Lubinski.

"Passage of this law will make the continuing AIDS crisis in Uganda even worse. Knowledge of HIV status is one of the foundations of HIV prevention, but this law will make Ugandans even more reticent to be tested for HIV infection, to ask candid questions about their HIV risks, or to access HIV care if they do discover they are infected."