World Bank Suspension of New Loans to Uganda Over Anti-Homosexuality Law is a Warning to Other Countries 
Transgender rights
International events in solidarity with the Ugandan LGBTI community have been held across the world.

The World Bank’s decision to suspend new public loans to Uganda after the country passed its Anti-Homosexuality Act in March should serve as a warning to other countries contemplating passing similar discriminatory laws, according to human rights activists. 

“Other countries considering similarly discriminatory laws should take notice of the World Bank’s decision and the negative economic impact on their economies. Open and inclusive societies are better for business and better for economic growth,” said Clare Byarugaba, a local activist from the civil liberties group Chapter Four Uganda.

The Kenyan and Ghanaian parliaments are currently considering anti-homosexuality laws, while the governments of Tanzania and Ethiopia are clamping down on LGBTQ people.

The World Bank’s decision “is an important step by the international financial institution to respond to the pernicious impacts of the Act,” added Byarugaba, who is also co-convenor of the Convening For Equality Coalition (CFE), an alliance of LGBTIQ+ members and allies working for equality in Uganda.

The World Bank noted in a statement released on Tuesday that Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act “fundamentally contradicts” its values, adding: “We believe our vision to eradicate poverty on a livable planet can only succeed if it includes everyone irrespective of race, gender, or sexuality.”

The World Bank sent a team to Uganda to review its portfolio of loans after the Act was passed to decide whether “determined additional measures are necessary to ensure projects are implemented in alignment with our environmental and social standards”.

“Our goal is to protect sexual and gender minorities from discrimination and exclusion in the projects we finance. These measures are currently under discussion with the authorities,” the bank stated. “No new public financing to Uganda will be presented to our Board of Executive Directors until the efficacy of the additional measures has been tested.” 

But Frank Mugisha of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and the other CFE co-convenor, said that “there are no ‘additional measures’ which can make this law acceptable”.

Violation of patient confidentiality

On Tuesday, Uganda’s Ministry of Health issued a press statement noting that the country’s Constitution recognises that access to health is a “fundamental right” and that the Ministry is mandated to provide health services without discrimination.

It “reiterated” that health workers could not deny health services to anyone, had to deliver these without stigma or discrimination – including for sexual orientation, and respect patient confidentiality.

However, the Anti-Homosexuality Act specifies that everyone has a duty to report “acts of homosexuality” to the Ugandan police and that those usually “prevented by privilege” from making disclosures without consent shall be “immune from any actions” arising from their report – thus dispensing with patient confidentiality, as well as attorney-client privilege.

Extract from Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, which indemnified health workers who break patient confidentiality.

Mugisha dismissed the Health Ministry’s reassurance “to international funders of a commitment to non-discrimination in healthcare”, saying that “the lived reality for LGBTIQ Ugandans living under this law tells a very different story – one filled with discrimination, fear and violence because of this law and those who support it”. 

“The only way forward is for Uganda’s courts to stand up for the principle of non-discrimination, already enshrined in our Constitution, and rule that the law is unconstitutional as soon as possible,” said Mugisha.

Uganda’s $500 million grant from the US President’s Emergency Plan to Fight AIDS (PEPFAR) has also been suspended – although it is likely to go ahead, albeit with some changes. Over 90% of Ugandans with HIV rely on PEPFAR-sponsored anti-retroviral treatment.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of health emergencies, expressed his solidarity with Ugandans.

Ryan, who told a media briefing on Wednesday that he wears a rainbow-coloured lanyard every day in solidarity with people facing discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender, was emphatic that the Anti-Homosexuality Act would impact health service delivery.

Mike Ryan says he wears a rainbow-coloured lanyard in solidarity with “all people in the WHO, UN system and everywhere” who face discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender.

“Any law that criminalises the behaviour, or criminalises a sexual preference or orientation, must ultimately end in the lack of access to health care or decreased access to health care, and WHO condemns that form of discrimination,” said Ryan.

“We act in solidarity with all those who lack access to health services all over the world for so many different reasons. And in particular, we want to assure our solidarity,” he said. “We stand as one with with with people in Uganda and any other country who are discriminated against for reasons of their sexual preference.”

Image Credits: Peter Tatchwell Foundation, Alisdare Hickson/Flickr.

Combat the infodemic in health information and support health policy reporting from the global South. Our growing network of journalists in Africa, Asia, Geneva and New York connect the dots between regional realities and the big global debates, with evidence-based, open access news and analysis. To make a personal or organisational contribution click here on PayPal.