KAMPALA – The Constitutional Court in Kampala has on Tuesday, June 7th started hearing the petition against the HIV Prevention and Control Act, 2015 after six years of filing.
The law passed in 2014 was in 2016 was challenged by the Uganda Network on Law, Ethics and HIV/AIDS (UGANET) together with Prof. Ben Twinomugisha of School of Law, Makerere and Lilian Mworeko Executive Director of International Community of Women Living with HIV Eastern Africa (ICWEA) on behalf of the people living with HIV and HIV Law coalition.
Speaking to the press on Tuesday at Uganda Museum after the first hearing of the petition, UGANET’s Head, Advocacy and Strategic Litigation, Ms. Owomugisha Immaculate said as HIV Law advocates, they strongly challenged the impugned Act since its passing in 2014.
“Today, we presented our case, the attorney general responded, we filed our submission and served them and also responded but late. They served us today morning so we could not proceed because the judges had not read their response and as the legal team from our side and court adjourned the case to 14th June.”
According to her, The Act in its current form puts stringent punishments for HIV nondisclosure, exposure, and transmission, which as the community of people living with HIV and CSO HIV law coalition find unfair and if not addressed by the court, it will hinder people from accessing HIV related services.
“This will have a far reach impact on attaining the global HIV goal of ending AID by 2030.”
The petition seeks to challenge some sections of the HIV prevention and Central Act, 2015 namely,
a) Section 18(e) on disclosure of the HIV status by medical work to one’s employer or any other person deemed to be in constant contact with a person living with HIV
b) Sections 41 and 43, about the intentional transmission of HIV. The petition seeks to challenge the extent and parameters of intent in this case
c) Section 44, which criminalizes HIV transmission without any parameters given.
Mr. Caleb Ahabwe, Officer, Violence Against Women and Girls Prevention at UGANET said “As the HIV community, we note that Criminal punishment and discrimination on the basis of HIV infection is both a legal and human rights question.”
He noted that the stigmatizing impact and negative public health consequences of criminalization and other forms of discrimination against people with HIV occur under the guise of addressing HIV transmission.
Ms. Atim Salome of Uganda Country Coordinating Mechanism of Global Fund said “the judicial officers should be guided by HIV science which tells us that if one’s Vero load is undetectable then chances of transmitting HIV are very minimal – the U=U concept and as such HIV criminal laws should be repealed if we are to sustain the HIV prevention gains.”
She noted that while handling this matter, it is also important to note that HIV is a disease like any other, “with thousands of children and young people facing the daily fears of living with a disease they were born with, hot also with the hope that the fight against HIV is making huge milestones that could lead to finding a permanent cure, and prevent its further spread if the right attitudes at all levels are employed.”
Ms. Atim said that it is impossible to end AIDS or reach epidemic control with HIV Criminalization and heightened HIV discrimination. “Human rights and dignity need to be accorded to all. We need to Stop Stigma and end HIV Criminalization.”