Uganda: The HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Bill

According to this report and the Order Paper from today’s session, The HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Bill was tabled for first reading before Uganda’s Parliament this morning. The bill would criminalize the intentional transmission of HIV. However, the wording of the bill is raising critical concerns among human rights groups.

The Human Rights Watch has a detailed and updated analysis of the bill here. Apparently, this bill has been contemplated for some time and is not simply an effort to carve up the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and attach the pieces to new legislation. Nonetheless, there are concerns raised by the HRW which are valid and I hope will be considered favorably by Uganda’s legislators.

According to the Parliament website, the Parliament is now on recess:

Parliament is on recess following the end of the fourth session of the Eighth Parliament. The recess marks the end of the fourth year of the Eighth Parliament. The Speaker of Parliament Rt.Hon.Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi hailed Members of Parliament for their harmonious co-existence in a multiparty Parliament. He says cooperation between members of the  different political parties is key to the success of the multiparty political dispensation in Uganda. Pending business not concluded by Parliament in this session will be carried over to the next session that opens in June.

This article on the Parliament website seems to be related to the bill just tabled:

Members of parliament are proposing new strategies to combat the HIV/AIDs disease following reports of stagnation in its eradication in many parts of the country. Legislators propose a refocusing of efforts to implementing effective HIV prevention programs to reduce new emerging infections. A report by the Parliamentary Committee on HIV cites stabilization in disease prevalence between 6.1 and 6.5% during the last five years. This development is partly due to complaceny, behavioural factors and failure to balance efforts between prevention and treatment. Hon Beatrice Rwakimari the chairperson of the committee expressed concern over the shift in the epidemic from people in single casual relationships to those in long term stable relationships.

She told Parliament that the shortage of all cadres of health workers to provide HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services has grossly affected service delivery. Understaffing, low motivation, staff transfers, redeployment and the high attrition rates are affecting continuity in the efforts to fight HIV.

The Parliamentary Committee on HIV noted that AIDS related services have remained inadequate in both scope and coverage, posing a threat to prevention of the disease. Many Ugandans are not aware of their HIV status while almost half of the people eligible to be on ARVs have not been enrolled and cannot access treatment.

The Committee proposed improvements in treatment, care and support systems for all people affected, provision of ARVs,and expansion of all essential care and treatment services to all district health units.

Concerns about HIV/AIDS were outlined in a Parliament summary report of the 2009-2010 session from various committees. Specifically the Uganda Aids Commission reported:


III. Uganda Aids Commission (UAC)

The surge in the Prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS 

5.14 The Committee noted with concern that in the recent past, there has been an upward surge in the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Uganda. The committee is concerned that the current strategy seems to be directed to the young people other than the age group which is most affected by the increasing rate of infection. Current statistics indicate that the new infections are occurring among married couples. According to the latest figures from UAC, the prevalence rate among married couples for men is 9.9% while for women is 12.1%. This is not a good trend.

 5.15 The Committee recommends that government has to design a new strategy in the fight against HIV/AIDS if the new surge is to be effectively responded to. UAC needs to strengthen the campaign on prevention other than popularizing the effectiveness of ARVs since it is not a cure.

When I am able to secure a copy of the bill, I will post it here.

Here is some additional background on the bill.

Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill: A status report

In January, rumblings came from Kampala that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (AHB) might not have the full support of the government. Then on January 12, Uganda’s President Yowari Museveni expressed reservations and caution in a speech to his party members, saying

So therefore, I strongly advise you that you agree to the idea that the cabinet sit down with Bahati, a sub-committee, and see how best to handle this issue because…because… it is a foreign policy issue. It’s not just our internal politics. It is a foreign policy issue, and we must handle it in a way which does not compromise our principles, but also takes into account our foreign policy interests.

Even though AHB supporters once predicted that the AHB would be considered in mid-February, 2009, the bill has not had a required second reading or been the subject of hearings in Parliament’s Legal and Parliamentary Committee. Instead, leaders there appear to have heeded at least one aspect of President Museveni’s advice. On May 7, the Uganda Daily Monitor first reported that the AHB had been evaluated negatively by a key Cabinet committee. Specifically, the Monitor reported that the Cabinet committee found that the bill duplicated existing law in several cases and stigmatized homosexuals due to the title of the AHB. Then, on May 8, Josh Kron reported in the New York Times that the chair of the Cabinet committee, Adolf Mwesige, told him

“Ninety-nine percent of all the proposals in the Bahati bill have been done before,” Mr. Mwesige said. “If we proceeded, it would definitely provoke criticism, and rightly so.”

According to the NYT article, Hon. Mwesige believed the Cabinet report would be the end of the AHB:

Mr. Mwesige said he expected the full Parliament to vote down the bill within weeks. “The influence of the cabinet is very important. If it takes a decision, it must be taken seriously.”

Indeed, the Cabinet report issues a devastating attack on the AHB. I have seen a copy of the report provided to me by Jeff Sharlet who received it by a source in Uganda. In it, the Cabinet committee expressed significant concerns about how the bill was drafted, introduced and worded, concluding

(1) That it was not clear who drafted the Bill since the First Parliamentary Counsel had not been consulted as required under the Law, (Article 94 of the Constitution) and that therefore the Bill was inconsistent with provisions of the law.

(2) That however, the Private Member had invited the Office of the First Parliamentary Counsel to participate in a consultative meeting on the Bill after it had already been published and that this was out of procedure.

(3) That therefore, the Private Member had not complied with the Constitutional provisions as contained in Article 94 and that the Bill was considered unconstitutionally before Parliament.

(4) That due to the omission, the Attorney General had realised that the Bill had technical defects both in form and content as follows:

What follows in the report is a very long list of problems with the bill, most of them noting that the bill duplicates existing law. Over the course of the public debate of the AHB, supporters such as David Bahati and Martin Ssempa have said that the bill was needed to protect “the boy child.” Those opposed have replied that such protections already exist in Ugandan law. Clearly, the Cabinet committee agrees with those opposed to the bill. Here are representative observations of the Cabinet committee:

Clause 2 – The offense of homosexuality:

That the offences listed under this clause were already adequately provided for in the Penal Code Act Cap. 120, section 145 (a) and (c), and that there was no need to create these offences again in a separate Act of Parliament.

Clause 3 – Aggravated Homosexuality:

That the offences under this clause needed to be harmonized with the existing penalties in the already existing laws.

Clause 14 – Failure to disclose the offence:

(a) That this clause was rather broad and easy to abuse since it could be incapable of proof.

(b) That in addition, the use of the words, “a person in authority” was not necessary since the existing laws already provide that any person who observes an offence being committed is under obligation to report it.

The committee found duplication in clauses 4, 6-12 and suggested that the other clauses were unnecessary for various reasons. The only clause the committee believed might be of some value was clause 13 on “Promotion of Homosexuality,” saying

(a) That this appears to be the core of the Bill and should be upheld due to the fact that there was massive recruitment to entice people into homosexuality going on especially among the youth.

(b) That therefore the law should provide that all the parties: publishers, printers, distributors, etc. of any materials that promote homosexual should all be liable to have committed an offence.

In the end, the Committee made five recommendations. 

Regarding the legality of the bill, the First Parliamentary Counsel is charged with drafting all bills and apparently was not consulted until after the bill had been published or introduced into Parliament. Perhaps this is why David Bahati only had a few copies of the bill on the day it was introduced. According to the minutes of Parliament on April 29, 2009, Bahati had only “a few copies available.”

MR DAVID BAHATI (NRM, Ndorwa County West, Kabale): Thank you, Madam Speaker, for the opportunity to move a motion seeking leave of Parliament to introduce a Private Members Bill moved under Rule 47, 105 and 106. Some of the few copies available are going to be circulated in a minute. I beg the indulgence of Members that I move on.

GIVEN THAT Parliament has enacted its Rules of Procedure, pursuant to Article 94 of the Constitution which also empowers a Member of Parliament to move a Private Members Bill under Rules 105 and 106;

According to Article 94, part (d)

(d) the office of the Attorney General shall afford the member moving the private member’s bill professional assistance in the drafting of the bill.

Being “illegally before Parliament” might be way for the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee to avoid acting on the bill at all. The implications on this point are not clear. However, the Cabinet committee’s recommendations certainly give adequate justification for a negative vote if a vote is taken.

So is the bill dead?

Not everybody agrees that the committee report is the end of the line. Via email, Charles Tuhaise, with the Parliamentary Research Service in Uganda, says he believes the bill will be considered:

The alleged unconstitutionality or redundancy of some of the provisions of the AH bill will be examined during committee hearings. The argument that some clauses of the AH Bill are redundant because they are dealt with in other legislation would not tally with Uganda’s legislative history, where legislation has been develop to specifically deal with unique problems or situations. For example, whereas Uganda has laws against assault or infliction of grievous bodily harm, a new Act, “The Domestic Violence Act” was recently enacted by Parliament to specifically and comprehensively address the unique circumstances of this problem.

Just to be clear, when Tuhaise says “committee hearings,” he is referring to the Parliamentary committee (Legal and Parliamentary Affairs). Tuhaise, who has publicly supported the AHB, believes the Cabinet committee’s views will be heard but is not ready to concede defeat.

When might the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee consider the AHB? Tuhaise suggested that other legislation now is more important, saying:

Committee work recently focused on the electoral Bills to prepare for next year’s General Elections. It is likely that as Parliament completes work on these Bills, the AH Bill will follow.  The AH Bill is before the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee.

In my view, the AHB is weakened considerably, but not finished. I think some of the provisions may end up in other legislation or come back if a candidate needs to whip up support by opposing gays. The bill may have already accomplished that purpose for those who introduced and support it. I do think, however, that the recent Cabinet report signals that opposition to the AHB is no longer political suicide in Uganda. It appears that those opposed to the AHB for various reasons are now more empowered to speak out.

Rekers resigns from NARTH; website purge begins

UPDATE: Rekers continues to deny the claims of JoVanni Roman and says he is resigning to fight those claims.

NARTH Responds to the

Recent Media Coverage of Dr. George Rekers

“I am immediately resigning my membership in NARTH to allow myself the time necessary to fight the false media reports that have been made against me. With the assistance of a defamation attorney, I will fight these false reports because I have not engaged in any homosexual behavior whatsoever. I am not gay and never have been.”  –George A. Rekers, Ph.D.

NARTH has accepted Dr. Rekers’ resignation and would hope that the legal process will sufficiently clarify the questions that have arisen in this unfortunate situation. We express our sincere sympathy to all individuals, regardless of their perspective, who have been injured by these events. We also wish to reiterate our traditional position that these personal controversies do not change the scientific data, nor do they detract from the important work of NARTH. NARTH continues to support scientific research, and to value client autonomy, client self-determination and client diversity.

That is what TPM is reporting.

George Rekers resigned this morning from the board of NARTH, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, amid a gay escort scandal.

NARTH vice president of operations David Pruden tells TPMmuckraker that Rekers first offered his resignation last Thursday, and officially resigned today.

NARTH is a group that promotes the idea that homosexuality can, and should, be cured.

Pruden also denied a report in the Miami New Times that NARTH had been involved in helping Rekers respond to the media.

“NARTH has never had any role in advising Dr. Rekers except to suggest that if he is innocent he needs to get a good lawyer,” Pruden said in an email. “He has friends who are members of NARTH and they are free to talk with, advise, and needless to say, they are free to help him in any way they might select.”

“NARTH as an organization has taken no official role in this other than asking him to explain to us what has happened and in accepting his resignation,” he said.

Apparently, at least some of Rekers’ work is going with him. The link to his controversial work opposing gay adoption is gone from the NARTH website as of this morning. NARTH’s Dave Pruden told me that NARTH did not agree with Rekers that Native Americans could be excluded from adoption based on high levels of substance abuse and other issues. As I reported last week, Rekers told the Florida court in the Gill adoption case that — using the same logic as he did in testifying against gays — he believes the rationale could be used to exclude Native Americans. As of now, Rekers remains on the NARTH Advisory Board.

UPDATE: He is now missing from the NARTH Advisory Board page as well…(May 13)

Uganda government committee rejects Anti-Homosexuality Bill

This article was just posted on Uganda’s Daily Montor website

A committee of Cabinet has made recommendations that could end Ndorwa West MP David Bahati’s proposal to have a separate law punishing homosexuality in Uganda. The recommendations, which Saturday Monitor has seen, come close to dismissing Mr Bahati’s draft legislation. The committee, put together to advise the government after Mr Bahati’s draft legislation left Uganda condemned by sections of the international community, looked deep into the language, tone and relevance of the draft legislation, dissecting every clause to determine its usefulness.

It was not clear who wrote the draft legislation, the committee’s report says, noting that the document had “technical defects in form and content”. The result left the draft legislation almost bare, as nearly all of the clauses were found either redundant, repetitive of existing laws, or even useless. In fact, the committee found that only “Clause 13” of the draft legislation, about the promotion of homosexuality, had some merit. 

“This appears to be the core of the (draft legislation) and should be upheld due to the fact that there was massive recruitment to entice people into homosexuality going on, especially among the youth,” the report says. Seven ministers were originally named to the committee, but only three, as well as a representative of the Attorney General, attended the meeting that produced these recommendations. 

Dr Nsaba Buturo, the junior ethics minister, who has spoken fiercely against homosexuality, never attended this meeting. He has since complained to Local Government Minister Adolf Mwesigye, who chaired the committee, that the report did not reflect his views. 

Read the rest at the Monitor site.

Divisions among government leaders seem obvious with these developments. In addition to the harshness of the bill, critics have noted that there are many aspects that are unenforceable and overlap with existing law. The clause suggested for retention, clause 13, reads:

13. Promotion of homosexuality.

(1) A person who –

(a) participates in production. procuring, marketing, broadcasting, disseminating, publishing pornographic materials for purposes of promoting homosexuality;

(b) funds or sponsors homosexuality or other related activities;

(c) offers premises and other related fixed or movable assets for purposes of homosexuality or promoting homosexuality;

(d) uses electronic devices which include internet, films, mobile phones for purposes of homosexuality or promoting homosexuality and;

(e) who acts as an accomplice or attempts to promote or in any way abets homosexuality and related practices; commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a line of live thousand currency points or imprisonment of a minimum of five years and a maximum of seven years or both fine and imprisonment.

(2) Where the offender is a corporate body or a business or an association or a non-governmental organization, on conviction its certificate of registration shall be cancelled and the director or proprietor or promoter shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for seven years.

As written, there are significant free speech issues here. However, we do not know to what degree even this clause was altered.

Probably, the most significant aspect of the article is the following:

Needs review

“The Anti-Homosexuality Bill should be reviewed since some provisions of the Constitution were not followed in the process of drafting and that, therefore, it was illegally before Parliament,” the report says, adding that “some sections of the Penal Code Act could be amended to include some good provisions” of the draft law. This kind of amendment, the committee’s report says, is the preferable option.

It was hoped, at least according to Dr Buturo, that the Cabinet committee would make certain amendments to the draft law. As it turned out, the committee critiqued Mr Bahati’s work so deeply that no amendments were proposed. Mr Mwesigye said on Thursday that he had no comment to make. Cabinet is yet to discuss the committee’s recommendations.

Mr Bahati was not immediately available for comment. The draft law is currently before Parliament’s Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs. Kajara MP Stephen Tashobya, who chairs the committee, has not said when he is likely to start discussion on it.

It may be that the committee’s statement that the bill was “illegally before Parliament” will be a way for the government to declare the bill moot.

CNN interviews George Rekers’ travel companion

Tonight, Anderson Cooper 360 has an interview with George Rekers’ escort, “Lucien,” and will provide a look at the contract between Rekers and Lucien. You can get a preview on Cooper’s blog.

UPDATE: Video added below: