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Uganda anti-homosexuality law challenged

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The World Medical Association (WMA) has written to the President of Uganda to express its concerns about anti-gay laws introduced by the African nation, urging him to reverse the measures.

President Yoweri Museveni signed an anti-gay Bill in February that some are condemning as among the toughest laws against homosexual people in the world.

The Bill punishes gay sex with up to life imprisonment, a measure likely to send Uganda’s beleaguered gay community further underground.

The Ugandan law calls for first-time offenders to be sentenced to 14 years in jail. It sets life imprisonment as the maximum penalty for aggravated homosexuality, defined as repeated gay sex between consenting adults and acts involving a minor, a disabled person, or where one partner is infected with HIV.

President Museveni said scientists had written a report that found there was no proven genetic basis for homosexuality, citing it as a reason for the introduction of the Bill.

Chair of the WMA and former AMA President Dr Mukesh Haikerwal and the Secretary General of the WMA Dr Otmar Kloiber said that the science and ethics on which the Ugandan legislation is based is incorrect, and that the new law will detract from the many advances in health care made in Uganda.

The letter states that WMA leaders met Uganda’s Minister of Health early in March and appeared on Ugandan TV to voice their concern and state clearly that they believe the new law is violating what is now being seen across most of the world community as a basic human right.

Dr Haikerwal wrote that “the heinous crimes of child abuse and pedophilia are abhorrent and totally unacceptable but have nothing to do with sexual orientation but criminal actions”. He said that … “it is correct to state, clearly and unequivocally, we are not aware of any medical reason or fault for bi-sexual or homosexual behaviour. Further, it is highly questionable that homosexuality poses a public health risk.”

Dr Haikerwal said ultimately the Ugandan legislation must be reversed.

Late last week, Ugandan rights’ activists and politicians filed a legal challenge to overturn the law.

The Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, which represents about 50 groups, filed the petition in the Constitutional Court, asking for the law to be annulled.

Since the introduction of the law the World Bank has postponed a $90m (£54m) loan to Uganda to improve its health services, and several European nations – including Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and Sweden – have cut aid to Uganda to show their opposition to the law.

The sponsor of the law, MP David Bahati, insists that homosexuality is a “behaviour that can be learned and can be unlearned”.

Kirsty Waterford