By Kerry Eleveld
Originally published on Advocate.com November 30 2009 7:00 PM ET
On the eve of World AIDS Day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Monday made the strongest statement yet by an administration official that the United States will not tolerate efforts to criminalize homosexuality among countries that receive U.S. funding to combat HIV/AIDS.
“Obviously, our efforts are hampered whenever discrimination or marginalization of certain populations results in less effective outreach and treatment. So we will work not only to ensure access for all who need it but also to combat discrimination more broadly,” she said during a press conference in which officials also announced that the XIX International AIDS Conference, set for 2012, will be held in United States — the first time the conference has been held here since 1990. “We have to stand against any efforts to marginalize and criminalize and penalize members of the LGBT community worldwide.”
Specifically at issue is pending legislation in Uganda that would extend the punishment for engaging in gay sex to life imprisonment and introduce the death penalty for those who do so repeatedly or while HIV-positive — acts termed "aggravated homosexuality” within the bill.
Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, said he was pleased to see Secretary Clinton take a firm stand against antigay bigotry.
“The United States must make it absolutely clear to Uganda that the passage of the bill, which includes a death penalty provision and criminalizes those who fail to report suspected homosexuals to the authorities, would substantially impact our bilateral relationship and our health investments in that country,” he said.
The United States recently pledged to provide Uganda with nearly $250 million in development assistance, mainly to promote health, agriculture, and business initiatives. The grant was announced when the assistant secretary of State for African affairs, Johnnie Carson, met with Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni in late October.
Clinton’s comments came on the heels of an interview with Ambassador Eric Goosby, the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, that concerned many HIV/AIDS activists.
“My role is to be supportive and helpful to the patients who need these services. It is not to tell a country how to put forward their legislation,” Goosby said of Uganda last week during a Newsweek interview.
Many HIV/AIDS activists felt that Goosby’s comments signaled a certain tone-deafness by the Obama administration to the Ugandan issue. But one person who consults regularly with the Department of State said the agency has been heavily engaged with Ugandan officials regarding the fate of the legislation.
“They have been working for several weeks behind the scenes at a senior level within the department to determine what the actual facts are and what the likelihood is of this bill becoming law,” said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The source said the diplomatic goal was to strike a forceful tone that stopped short of shaming President Museveni, who has yet to take an official stand on the legislation, which was introduced by a lawmaker in his own party, member of parliament David Bahati.
“They are trying to proceed in a way that gives them some private leverage but also acknowledges that Secretary Clinton has an obligation to speak out on human rights issues in her capacity as our top international diplomat,” said the source. “It's been a delicate effort with inconclusive results.”
Elly Tebasoboke Katabira, a native Ugandan and president-elect of the International AIDS Society, said that if President Museveni denounces the measure, it could ultimately kill the legislation.
“Remember, it was written by a person from his own party,” explained Katabira, “so that person would be very reluctant to push something that was not acceptable to the president.”
Katabira added that Clinton’s comments condemning homophobia were “extremely important” since attitudes in so many sub-Sahara African countries mirror those in Uganda.
“I wish what Secretary Clinton said could be made available to many leaders in our region, because then they would know that they don't have the support of other countries including the U.S.,” he said after the press conference.
The full text of Clinton's remarks can be viewed on the next page.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
On the Administration’s Efforts on HIV/AIDS
November 30, 2009
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
SECRETARY CLINTON: As Valerie Jarrett leaves, I want to thank her for her leadership on this and so many issues here in the White House and in the Administration, and for her personal testimony as to the importance of this issue for her, for President Obama, for all of us.
We are gathered on the eve of World AIDS Day to renew and recommit ourselves. It is obvious to those sitting in this audience, as I look out at you and see people who have been involved in this struggle for a long time, that you know that we have made progress, but we face an unending pandemic, one that spares no one, that unfortunately disproportionately affects the most vulnerable, and which is the defining health challenge of our times. And we have to address it through a series of broad and cross-cutting global partnerships and a whole-of-government approach. And that is exactly what we are attempting to do.
We know the ravages and complexities of HIV/AIDS here in our own country, and we know, many of us, what it looks like around the world. But we can take some heart in the progress that has been made over the last two decades. Access to antiretroviral treatment in low- and middle-income countries has risen tenfold in the last five years. New HIV infections have fallen by 17 percent over the last eight years. And much of that progress has been due to the concerted efforts of the United States Government and our partners.
I want to applaud President Bush for making a serious commitment to American leadership in combating HIV/AIDS. His administration spearheaded the creation of PEPFAR — the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. And by supporting its implementation and activities, the United States has made the largest effort in history by any nation to combat a single disease. I remember well serving as a senator from New York how there was bipartisan support on behalf of this initiative, and the extraordinary commitment of dollars and technical assistance that backed it up.
PEPFAR has provided lifesaving antiretroviral treatment to over 2 million men, women, and children worldwide, through partnerships with other governments and NGOs. We’ve supported care for more than 10 million people, including 4 million orphans and vulnerable children. And PEPFAR’s efforts to prevent mother-to-child transmission have helped nearly 240,000 HIV-positive mothers give birth to children who are HIV-free. So it is clear that our nation’s investments are having an impact. And President Obama is dedicated to enhancing America’s leadership in the fight against global AIDS with PEPFAR serving as the cornerstone of our Global Health Initiative to promote better and more sustainable health outcomes.
Later this week, Ambassador Goosby will present the five-year strategy for the future of PEPFAR outlining the important role that PEPFAR will play in transitioning from emergency response to sustainable health systems that help meet the broad medical needs of people with HIV and the communities in which they live. In its next phase, PEPFAR programs will support a comprehensive, whole-of-government approach in many countries to increase awareness, reduce stigma, and get services to people at earlier stages.
Obviously, our efforts are hampered whenever discrimination or marginalization of certain populations results in less effective outreach and treatment. So we will work not only to ensure access for all who need it, but also to combat discrimination more broadly. We have to stand against any efforts to marginalize and criminalize and penalize members of the LGBT community worldwide. It is an unacceptable step backwards — (applause) — on behalf of human rights. But it is also a step that undermines the effectiveness of efforts to fight the disease worldwide.
We will also redouble our efforts to address the needs of women and girls who are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS in many parts of the world. Promoting the health of women strengthens families and communities and has positive spillover effects in areas like poverty reduction and education. Since we know the most effective health programs are integrated with functioning local and national governments, we will work with partner governments to assess capacity, identify gaps, and make customized plans to meet each country’s needs.
Now, that means creating more programs like the ones that Ambassador Goosby and I visited in Africa over the summer. In Angola, for example, our PEPFAR Partnership Framework supports the country’s HIV National Strategic plan to strengthen the health care infrastructure there.
We visited a clinic in South Africa, which we co-sponsor with the South African Government, and heard from patients who not only receive care but also support as they face the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS.
Our investments in PEPFAR, the Global Fund, and overall global health have made a positive difference. And we will continue our support, but we have to do more. We have to make sure that our programs foster conditions that improve people’s lives and, in turn, promote stability, prosperity, and security.
In this time of very tight budgets in our own government and our own people suffering from unemployment, from other kinds of cutbacks in services, we have to do more even here at home. We’ve seen some of the results of the cutbacks that are happening at the state and local level. So while we are talking about our commitment internationally, let’s not forget our fellow citizens who are suffering right now.
And then we also have to make the case to our fellow citizens that our investment in dealing with the pandemic worldwide is in America’s interest. So we are committed to doing so. President Obama is implementing the repeal of the “HIV entry ban,” a longstanding policy that prevented people living with HIV/AIDS from entering our country. The repeal will take effect early in the new year, and will be vigorously enforcing it.
Today, I am pleased to announce that, with the repeal of the ban, the International AIDS Society will hold the 2012 International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. (Applause.) This conference will draw together an estimated 30,000 researchers, scientists, policymakers, health care providers, activists, and others from around the world.
So as we look to 2012, we have to continue to seek a global solution to this global problem. On World AIDS Day, let us renew our commitment to ensuring that those infected and affected by HIV — the woman on treatment who is supporting her family, the child who dropped out of school to care for sick parents, the doctors and nurses without adequate resources — that all those who have joined together to fight this pandemic will someday live in a world where HIV/AIDS can be prevented and treated as a disease of the past.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)