BURUNDI: AIDS activists condemn new anti-gay law
Homosexual acts are now punishable by up to three years in prison
Nairobi, 28 April 2009 (IRIN) - Burundian AIDS activists and international human rights groups have condemned a new criminal code that criminalises homosexuality in the central African country.
The Burundian Senate overwhelmingly voted against the draft bill in February, but in March the lower house of parliament reversed this decision, and President Pierre Nkurunziza signed it into law on 22 April.
"We regret that the law will hamper Burundi's attempts to fight AIDS by further marginalizing an at-risk population," said a statement by international rights groups, including the New York-based Human Rights Watch, local rights group Ligue Iteka and local AIDS NGO, Association Nationale de Soutien aux séropositifs et Malades du Sida (ANSS). "We urge the Government of Burundi to act promptly to decriminalize homosexual conduct."
People found guilty of engaging in consensual same-sex relations risk imprisonment of two to three years and a fine of up to US$84. "Our activities will be hampered by this law," said Georges Kanuma, chairman of the Association pour le Respect et les Droits des Homosexuels (ARDHO), a local gay rights movement.
"Our organization is now closing down its offices [in the capital, Bujumbura] because we are afraid that with the new law we may be arrested." ARDHO has been in existence since 2003 but has never managed to gain legal recognition as an NGO.
The association distributes water-based lubricants and condoms, and raises awareness of HIV/AIDS among men who have sex with men. According to Kanuma, most Burundians are not even aware of the existence of men who have sex with men in their society.
"We are hoping to meet CNLS [Burundi's national AIDS control council] officials to see if they will also stop the activities they were planning for men who have sex with men," he added.
In its latest national strategic plan, CNLS lists men who have sex with men among the groups vulnerable to HIV, and recognizes the need for targeted prevention activities in this community.
Although rights groups are unhappy with the clause criminalizing homosexuality, they have welcomed other articles in the code, including the abolition of the death penalty and outlawing torture, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.