Uganda’s Constitutional Court gives campaigners seven days to file final arguments in HIV criminalization case

Uganda’s Constitutional Court has given plaintiffs seven days from June 7 to file their final arguments in a landmark case challenging sections of the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Act 2014 that criminalize HIV transmission. HIV and require the disclosure of one’s HIV status to sexual partners.


From the African Human Rights Media Network

Lawyers prepare to plead their case before the judges of the Constitutional Court in Kampala on June 7, 2022. (Photo courtesy of UGANET)

The Uganda Network on Legal Ethics and HIV/AIDS (UGANET), leading a coalition of over 50 civil society organizations, challenges the 2014 HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Act which they say is discriminatory and an obstacle to the fight against AIDS. Their petition was originally filed in 2016 and has been stuck in the court system for almost seven years.

Francis Onyango, counsel for the applicants, said RightsAfrica Tuesday in Kampala that the parties will still have to wait for the decision after the closing arguments have been presented.

Among the controversial provisions of the law are mandatory HIV testing for pregnant women and their partners, and the ability for healthcare providers to disclose a patient’s HIV status to others without their consent.

The law also criminalizes HIV transmission, attempted transmission, and behavior likely to result in transmission by those who know their HIV status. Ugandan LGBTQI+ rights activists filed petitions with the Ugandan Parliament during the consideration of the bill.

Sex workers also see the law as an obstacle to the fight against HIV, because it is mistakenly believed that they intend to transmit HIV to their clients. Sex work is illegal in Uganda, despite a fierce fight by campaigners for decriminalization.

Mandatory HIV testing and disclosing medical information without consent is contrary to international best practice and violates basic human rights, the petitioners claim. They also argue that the criminalization of HIV transmission is too broad and difficult to enforce.

They argue that the law is used by government agencies as a tool of discrimination and humiliation. LGBT people have complained of forced anal exams in recent arrests as part of mandatory HIV testing while in police custody. Many human rights organizations have called the law flawed and deeply troubling, and at odds with science and human rights.

Uganda is currently a candidate to host the Society for AIDS in Africa (SAA) 2023 International Conference on HIV/AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA 2023).

Among the requirements for potential ICASA host countries, the SAA requires that host countries not have discriminatory government policies based on gender, HIV status and religion.

Uganda's Constitutional Court gives campaigners seven days to file final arguments in HIV criminalization case
Members of the Uganda Network on Law, HIV/AIDS and Ethics (UGANET) at the Constitutional Court in Kampala on June 7, 2022. (Photo courtesy of UGANET)

Kikonyogo Kivumbi, the author of this article, is the executive director of the Uganda Health and Science Press Association. Contact him at [email protected].

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