criminalization of homosexuality, criminalizing homosexuality, Global health, High Delhi Court, HIV/AIDS, HIV/AIDS and Africa, homosexuality and HIV/AIDS, homosexuality illegal, India and HIV/AIDS, India and homosexuality, Indian Supreme Court, LGBT rights, Naz Foundation (India) Trust, President Museveni, Section 377 Indian Penal Code, Uganda, Yoweri Museveni
Yesterday, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni signed a law to enforce much stronger punishment for homosexuality, which technically has been illegal since colonial times. With the passage of this bill, first-time “offenders” can face 14 years in prison, with “aggravated offenders” facing life. This is a huge blow to the global LGBT rights platform, but is not the only legal provision passed by a state regarding homosexuality.
While United States citizens battle about the giving homosexual couples the right to be legally married, homosexual citizens in many other countries are actually fighting for the right to even be gay. In the past year, we have all been witness to what seems to be a disturbing trend toward intolerance of homosexuality in some countries. Take India, for example. In 2001, the Naz Foundation (India) Trust, an HIV/AIDS and sexual health-focused charitable trust, challenged Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) on the basis of unconstitutionality. This section, described by the Hindustan Times as a “relic from the colonial ages,” technically criminalizes anal sex, but can be clearly understood as criminalizing homosexuality. After a long battle, the Delhi High Court decided in 2009 that the section would be amended to exclude consensual sex between adults. Last year, however, India’s Supreme Court overturned the 2009 ruling, stating that only Parliament could make such a decision.
Criminalizing homosexual behavior is most directly a human rights issue, but it also has serious negative implications for global health work in the areas of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) prevention and treatment. The most notable STD being fought on the global platform is HIV/AIDS, and many global health scholars are concerned about the effect President Museveni’s bill will have on efforts in the country. The United Nations published an article last week, citing many international leaders calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality. Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS is quoted in this article:
“Uganda was the first country in Africa to break the conspiracy of silence on AIDS — and to give voice to the most marginalized — but now I am scared that this bill will take Uganda backwards, relinquishing its leadership role in the AIDS response.”
According to the article, homosexual men are “13 times more likely to become infected with HIV than the general population.” Making homosexuality illegal will keep men from not only seeking treatment but also getting tested, from fear of being incarcerated and/or prosecuted. In a country where HIV/AIDS is already prevalent, this law could have devastating effects on the progress NGOs and the government have previously made in terms of combating the disease. And in this globalized world where people can travel across the globe in a day’s time, Increased prevalence of any disease in one country can easily threaten the well being of all others.
As of right now, it does not appear that anything can be done to reverse Uganda’s new law. President Museveni ignored even President Barack Obama’s warnings of complicating U.S.-Uganda relations, which is interesting considering that the U.S. is Uganda’s largest donor according to Guardian reports. The most important action we can take now is to raise awareness about how laws like this affect more than just human rights. The world must get involved in protecting these rights if not for feeling responsible for delivering social justice, then to help keep diseases like HIV/AIDS from spreading as best as possible.