by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Uganda's new anti-Gay law, which went into effect March 10, has already touched off a firestorm of protest.
Human rights activists filed suit on March 11 to overturn Uganda's new anti-Gay law, and they may be joined by UNAIDS, the organization set up by the United Nations to monitor HIV/AIDS treatment.
Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni, has also been denounced for signing the law by his former vice president Speciosa Wandira-Kazibwe.
The World Bank, the European Parliament and a number of Uganda's donor countries are also taking punitive measures against the country.
Uganda's penal code already criminalized "carnal knowledge against the order of nature," a British colonial era term for same-sex relations, but the new law goes much further.
"Touching with the intent to commit homosexuality," is now a crime, as is keeping "a house, room, set of rooms or place of any kind for purposes of homosexuality" and engaging in the undefined "promotion of homosexuality." "Repeat offender" Gays may be sentenced to life in prison.
Several NGOs have asked Uganda's Constitutional Court to strike down the new law, on the grounds that it violates the country's constitution.
The challenge argues that the new law is overly broad and unconstitutional on multiple grounds, including by violating Ugandans' rights to equality before the law without discrimination, as well as their rights to privacy, freedom of expression, thought, assembly, association, and civic participation.
U.S.-based LGBT campaign group Human Rights Watch (HRW) supports the suit, but also warn that hearings before the high court can be delayed for several years.
"Uganda's constitution explicitly protects basic human rights for all," said Maria Burnett, HRW senior Africa researcher. "The anti-homosexuality law completely defies Uganda's constitution and its legal obligations under international law, so this challenge is a crucial step to ensure that the law is removed from the books."
UNAIDS TO JOIN SUIT
UNAIDS deputy director Luiz Loures said his agency is ready to join the suit as well.
The agency has signed on to previous lawsuits challenging sodomy laws in Canada and one currently in Malawi's courts, Loures told BuzzFeed following a panel at the World Bank on "The Economic Cost of Homophobia."
"We'll be doing more," he said. "And now there is a challenge in Uganda [that] we're prepared to join as well."
Loures said Uganda's law will make HIV services harder to access for LGBT people, and UNAIDS was obligated to prevent that outcome.
"We need to change the way we are doing business, and that is a very radical statement," he said.
Loures said one option needed to be diverting funds away from organizations that will not ensure they reach key populations, including men who have sex with men, or support policies like the Anti-Homosexuality Act that drives them underground.
Donor nations need "really to be more selective" in the organizations they fund in countries like Uganda, he said. Loures added that donors should be guided by in-country LGBT movements.
"In Uganda today, in Nigeria today, you will find [they are] well organized. They are fighting back, and this should be our reference point," he said.
FORMER UGANDA VICE PRESIDENT WEIGHTS IN
The former vice president of Uganda has launched a scathing attack on President Yoweri Museveni for signing the country's Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law.
Speciosa Wandira-Kazibwe was vice president of Uganda from 1994 to 2003, and is now the UN's Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa.
On the day the law took effect, she issued a statement saying the measure will only fuel stigma and discrimination against the LGBT community and that the law also "undermines the significant progress of the national AIDS response".
"I am in full solidarity with the LGBT community and I will continue to defend their rights in Uganda and across Africa," Wandira-Kazibwe said.
"Rest assured of my unwavering support and action for the realisation of the rights for every human being, which has been my struggle since childhood. I will not reverse my path."
The former vice president says she is working with Uganda's Ministry of Health to ensure that the law is subjected to a regulatory impact assessment.
The World Bank has postponed a $79 million loan to Uganda, in what is described as "the largest financial penalty to be handed to the country" since the new law was passed by Uganda's parliament. The loan was intended to finance Uganda's health services.
"We have postponed the project for further review to ensure that the development objectives would not be adversely affected by the enactment of this new law," a World Bank spokesperson said.
In an editorial for the Washington Post, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim warned that legislation restricting LGBT rights "can hurt a country's competitiveness by discouraging multinational companies from investing or locating their activities in those nations."
He said the World Bank would discuss how such discrimination "would affect our projects and our gay and lesbian staff members", adding: "Institutionalized discrimination is bad for people and for societies. Widespread discrimination is also bad for economies.
"There is clear evidence that when societies enact laws that prevent productive people from fully participating in the workforce, economies suffer," he added.
On March 13, the European Parliament said it would seek sanctions against Uganda and Nigeria, which also passed a draconian new anti-Gay law.
Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands have suspended aid to Uganda's government as well, although all three said they would continue to support NGOs working in the country.
Sweden has also said it will review its aid spending.
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