Rights & Liberties
1 min

Ugandan lawmakers’ new HIV/AIDS bill

The criminalization of HIV is a serious and scary issue. 

In the United States, 34 states have laws that criminalize
HIV transmission or exposure. The statutes are often so vague that spitting,
coughing or sneezing could be considered a criminal activity — despite all
scientific evidence that the bodily fluids involved do not carry HIV.

In Canada, the laws are also murky. People living with
HIV/AIDS are required to disclose their status to their sexual partners. Since
1989
, at least 98 people have been charged, and 90 percent of those convicted
have gone to jail.

Some of the confusion around the nondisclosure laws in
Canada is caused by the term “significant risk” — the legal system has failed to clearly define the term. What should be deemed as low-risk behaviour, such as oral sex, could be seen as high-risk behaviour by the courts.

So, if Canada has trouble defining the law, what is going to
happen in a country like Uganda?

On Wednesday, July 13, Ugandan lawmakers backed the new
HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Bill, which seeks to criminalize the intentional
spread of HIV/AIDS.

The parliamentary HIV/AIDS committee chairperson, Rosemary
Najjemba Muyinda, told members of the committee that “the bill, once passed into law, will protect those without HIV from being infected."

In an article
in The Monitor,
Muyinda said the principles in the bill are aimed at combating the intentional
spread of HIV/AIDS.

"For
example, why should someone infect another with AIDS intentionally? That is a
crime that should not go unpunished,” she said.

Not surprisingly,
the bill has faced a lot of criticism from human-rights advocates. They argue
that the bill, which legislates for mandatory HIV testing and forced
disclosure of HIV status, violates human rights and threatens the progress the
country has made in fighting HIV/AIDS.

People
prosecuted under the bill can serve up to 10 years in prison, and, according to The
Monitor
, even mothers “who transmit HIV to their infants after birth through
breast milk would also be subject to criminal prosecution.” 

The question
is: do activists have enough clout to stop the bill from passing?

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