By Gary Eleazar in Trinidad
A Bill that has been proposed in Uganda on the continent of Africa that puts in place the death penalty for people living with HIV/AIDS as well as arrest Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgenders could accelerate the level of homophobia in the Caribbean.
This was the opinion voiced by Stephen Lewis, Co-Director of AIDS Free World, Basil Williams, who is the Director of Alliance Caribbean as well as Robert Carr of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition speaking in Trinidad at a working group during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
The group called for the expulsion of Uganda should that country enact the legislation pointing out that the Bill goes against the very principles of the Commonwealth grouping.
Speaking to media operatives in Trinidad Lewis said that whilst he was not too optimistic that the issue will be dealt at the official meetings it will be discussed fiercely in informal setting and he is hoping that a strong message is sent to Ugandan leadership.
He noted that while the Bill was not proposed by the Government there is the notion that the Government of Uganda is supportive of the legislation.
He explained that even the president of Uganda openly jokes about gays and lesbians.
According to Lewis, CHOGM 2009 is crunch time for the Commonwealth to take a definitive stance in light of the fact that Commonwealth principles go against the putting to death of a grouping of people because they are sick.
“The law is filled with hate,” said Lewis who added that the law is now a global controversy.
“Where are the voices that usually champion human rights. Where is the United Nations?”
“Where is the UN Secretary General? Where is the UN High Commissioner? What is this deafening silence?”
Williams, calling the proposed legislation horrific, said that the Commonwealth must act definitively on the issue given that Uganda must subscribe to the moral and other principles of the grouping.
He also stated that Commonwealth countries such as Caribbean countries that have buggery laws in place should address it given that what Uganda proposes victimizes a category of people.
Williams also noted that there is a lot of talk but without any action it would be meaningless.
Carr of the CVC said that the law is an extreme manifestation of homophobia. He also called for the expulsion of Uganda from the Commonwealth should it go ahead with the legislation.
He said that should the Commonwealth leaders not act on this issue then it questions the entire credibility of the Commonwealth grouping and its principles.
“What are the principles of Commonwealth if a member allows the murder of people living with HIV or AIDS?”
Under the proposed legislation homosexuals and lesbians will be arrested and the people with HIV or AIDS will be sentenced to death.
The law also criminalises having knowledge of such information and not reporting it within 24 hours.
According to Williams, the Bill is crossing new boundaries and the Commonwealth must act, given that it is pro Human Rights, “When have we put to death people for being sick.”
Carr suggested that when there are leaders that put forward a Bill that calls for the rounding up of Homosexuals and Lesbians and the putting to death of people with HIV/AIDS then there is a clear poverty of leadership in the Commonwealth.
He notes that it is up to responsible people throughout the Commonwealth to act to ensure that such legislation is not put in place anywhere in the world.
Several Groups are petitioning the leadership in Uganda calling for the immediate withdrawal of the “Anti Homosexuality Bill, 2009”.
According to the petition, “This proposed legislation is a huge step backwards for HIV prevention treatment and care initiatives…. By significantly expanding criminal sanctions against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people with penalties going as far as the death sentence in some cases, this bill drives sexual minorities underground and away from vital information and services, further fuelling HIV transmission in Uganda.”
Uganda’s own HIV/AIDS prevention experts have recognized that laws targeting sexual minorities are obstacles to effectively addressing AIDS and a 2009 joint report by the Uganda AIDS Commission and UNAIDS specifically called for a review of legal impediments to the inclusion of most at risk populations in the national AIDS response.
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