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Uganda: Bill Criminalizing HIV/AIDS Transmission Advances in Parliament

(July 20, 2011) It was reported on July 14, 2011, that Uganda's 332-member unicameral Parliament (Parliament website, last visited July 18, 2011) is close to passing the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Bill, a private member's bill that seeks, among other things, to criminalize intentional transmission of HIV/AIDS. (Mercy Nalugo, Ugandan Lawmakers Okay HIV/AIDS Bill, DAILY MONITOR (July 13, 2011).)

If enacted, the bill would make intentional transmission of HIV/AIDS an offense punishable, on conviction, by up to ten years' imprisonment and/or a fine of up to US$1875. (HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Bill, No. 5, 2010, § 41, 103:24 BILLS SUPPLEMENT TO THE UGANDA GAZETTE (Apr. 20, 2010)). Attempts to commit the offense would be punishable with a term of five years in prison and/or a fine of up to US$94.

A provision of the bill that initially exempted mothers who transmit HIV/AIDS to their children from criminal responsibility has reportedly been amended to criminalize transmission of HIV/AIDS through breast feeding in the version of the bill currently on the floor of the Parliament. (Id. § 46; Nalugo, supra.) It is unclear what type of penalty this would entail.

The bill introduces mandatory testing for HIV/AIDS for certain individuals and imposes mandatory release of test results. The bill seeks to force individuals with drug-related or prostitution convictions and those charged with a sexual offense (but not necessarily convicted) to undergo mandatory HIV testing. (Id. at § 13.) It also subjects victims of a sexual offense and pregnant women and their partners to mandatory testing. (Id. § 14). The bill allows for HIV/AIDS testing results to be released to the parent or a guardian if the infected person is a minor or is mentally challenged; to anyone authorized by a court; to courts, for purposes of use in criminal proceedings; and to persons close to the infected person, including but not limited to sexual partners. (Id. §§ 19 & 21.)

The bill seeks to provide certain protections to enable people with HIV/AIDS to live a normal life. It prohibits discrimination in the workplace and in schools on the basis of HIV/AIDS status, imposition of restrictions on travel or habitation, and denial of access to public services (including elected office), credit and insurance services, or health services. (Id. §§ 32-38.)

The bill has drawn strong opposition both from local and international rights groups. These include Action Aid International, the Uganda Global AIDS Alliance (United States), the Global Forum on MSM & HIV (United States), the Global Coalition of Women Against AIDS in Uganda, the Uganda Network of AIDS Service Organisations (UNASO), and the Uganda Young Positives. They argue that the bill, in addition to endangering the progress already made in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS, violates human rights. (Nalugo, supra.)