Some HIV/AIDS advocates in Burundi and international human rights groups have expressed concern about a new law that criminalizes homosexuality in the country, IRIN/PlusNews reports. Although Burundi's Senate voted against the draft bill in February, the lower parliament house reversed the decision last month, and President Pierre Nkurunziza signed the bill into law on April 22. According to the new statute, people found guilty of engaging in consensual same-sex relations could face two to three years in prison and a fine of about $84.
Several advocacy and international rights organizations -- including Human Rights Watch, Burundi's National Association To Support HIV-Positive People, or ANSS, and the local rights group Ligue Iteka -- in response to the law issued a statement describing the potential consequences of the statute. "We regret that the law will hamper Burundi's attempts to fight AIDS by further marginalizing an at-risk population," they wrote, adding, "We urge the government to act promptly to decriminalize homosexuality." Georges Kanuma, chair of the Association for the Respect and the Rights of Homosexuals, or ARDHO, said his organization's activities "will be hampered by this law." ARDHO -- which has operated since 2003 despite never gaining official recognition as a nongovernmental organization -- distributes condoms and lubricants and also raises awareness of HIV among men who have sex with men. Kanuma said the group is closing its offices in Burundi's capital of Bujumbura "because we are afraid that with the new law we may be arrested."
According to Kanuma, most Burundians are not aware of the existence of MSM in their communities. Kanuma said ARDHO hopes to meet with Burundi's National AIDS Control Council, or CNLS, to see if the council also intends to halt activities targeting MSM. According to IRIN/PlusNews, CNLS in its most recent national strategic plan identifies MSM as vulnerable to HIV and acknowledges the need for prevention activities targeting this community (IRIN/PlusNews, 4/28).
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