PEPFAR money being used to 'promote homophobia', charges human rights group

Michael Carter
Published: 19 October 2007

Money from the Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is funding organisations in Uganda that actively promote homophobia, a leading human rights charity has warned.

In a letter to the Mark Dybul, US Global AIDS Coordinator, Human Rights Watch, expressed grave concern about “an expanding pattern of attacks in Uganda upon the human rights of lesbian, gay and transgender people”, and highlighted the homophobic activities of Pastor Martin Ssempa, a member of the First lady’s of Uganda’s Task Force on AIDS and recipient of PEPFAR prevention HIV prevention money.

Human Rights Watch is calling on the US government to clarify its opposition to attacks on the rights of gay people in Uganda and to articulate that it does not support the use of PEPFAR funds to “promote homophobia.”

Homosexuality is punishable with a maximum life sentence in Uganda and recent months have seen an intensification of attacks on the rights of gay people in the country by government officials and the media.

In August the Ugandan Deputy Attorney General called for the criminal prosecution of lesbians and gays in Uganda, and it has been indicated that the government is “considering changing the laws so that the promotion [of homosexual conduct] itself becomes a crime” and that “catalogues” were being compiled “of people we think are involved in perpetuating the vice of homosexuality.”

It is estimated that Uganda has an adult HIV prevalence of a little under 7% with 940,000 individuals living with the virus. Although PEPFAR guidelines state that men who have sex with men should be a priority for HIV prevention, the Ugandan Information Ministry has protested to UNAIDS about the inclusion of gay people in the planning of HIV prevention initiatives. James Kigozi of the Ugandan AIDS commission has defended the lack of any reference to gay or bisexual men in the country’s HIV strategy saying, “the practice of homosexuality is illegal.”

Organisations that actively promote hatred of gay people and disseminate inaccurate information about the reliability of condoms are barred from receiving PEPFAR funds. But Human Rights Watch highlights the activities of Pastor Martin Ssempa’s Makerere Community Church.

His website has listed Ugandan gay rights activists, posting pictures and contact information and calling them “homosexual promoters.” The pastor testified before a committee of the US Congress in 2005 as a representative of the Ugandan First Lady’s AIDS Task Force. In August he helped organise a rally demanding government action against gay people, calling homosexual conduct “a criminal act against the laws of nature.”

The Makerere Community Church also disseminates information stating that condoms do not protect against HIV and has burnt condoms in public. The organisation has received $40,000 in PEPFAR funding to provide an abstinence education programme.

“Supporting prejudice with cash is an approach with deadly consequences for all,” said Scott Long of Human Rights Watch. The organisation is urging the US government to “condemn the treats against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Uganda as both destructive to human rights protections and dangerous to health.”