Uganda’s New Anti-LGBTQ Law Threatens Progress Made Fighting HIV/AIDS

On May 29th, 2023, the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, signed an Anti-Homosexuality bill into law. This bill is considered one of the harshest anti-LGBTQ laws in the world, as homosexual acts in Uganda can now receive a life prison sentence. The law goes further than this, with “aggravated homosexuality” being punishable by the death penalty; this includes acts such as having same-sex relations if one partner is HIV positive. Same-sex relations were already illegal in Uganda, as they are in over 30 African countries, however, this law is taking measures further than the laws already in place.

Many international actors have voiced strong concerns and disappointment following the passing of the bill. The United Nations Human Rights Office has called the imposition of the death penalty “an egregious violation of human rights.” The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said the US is considering visa restrictions against Ugandan officials for human rights abuses. Other countries have spoken out about their concerns with the law and its negative impact on human rights in Uganda, including Canada, the United Kingdom, and Norway. Clare Byarugaba, a Ugandan rights activist, has said: “the Ugandan president has today legalized state-sponsored homophobia and transphobia.”

On top of the severe human rights concerns, a major fear shared by many is the impact this will have on the progress Uganda has made in combatting HIV/AIDS. The US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, UNAids and the Global Fund shared a group statement in which they said they were concerned that this law would obstruct health education and increase stigma that would threaten the progress Uganda has made fighting HIV/AIDS. In 2013, 1.6 million Ugandans were living with HIV. Efforts made by Uganda with support from international partners have led to a decrease in the prevalence of HIV from 7.3% in the general population in 2011 to 6.0% in 2016. This law increases the stigmatization and discrimination faced by LGBTQ+ individuals, who are more at risk of HIV and will now have restricted access to much-needed support. Through criminalizing the “promotion of homosexuality”, much of the work done by international partners in HIV education in Uganda is now illegal.

The news of this bill passing into law is devastating for countless of people, particularly the LGBTQ+ population living in Uganda. International actors have been quick to respond and demand the law be reversed. It will be important for international actors to continue to voice their concerns and to work alongside domestic activists to push the Ugandan government to reconsider this law.