By Umoja Standard Reporter
Kampala, Uganda: On Monday 19th/December, 2022 in the Court of the Equal Opportunities Commission, HIV and human rights advocates, led by the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD), and Uganda Network of young people living with HIV&AIDS advanced their case against Pastor Martin Ssempa.
Pastor Ssempa, a prominent religious leader in Uganda, has circulated comments on Twitter and other social media platforms that are discriminatory and an affront to the dignity of persons living with HIV, contrary to Article 21 of Uganda’s Constitution, which guarantees equality and freedom from discrimination and Article 24 which guarantees freedom from cruel and degrading treatment.
Pastor Martin Ssempa made repeated disparaging and stigmatising remarks, attacking a beauty pageant held annually since 2014 by UNYPA.
Their pageant aims to reduce self stigma among young people living with HIV by emphasizing their inner beauty, turning stigma into pride, improving their self-esteem, and becoming more proactive advocates to reduce stigma within selfs and their surrounding environments.
The pageant also aims to increase awareness about health care stigma leading to increased access to health care and home-based caregiving.
CEHURD’s case was argued before a packed courtroom today, filled with allies of the plaintiffs from human rights and HIV organizations.
“Everyone in Uganda is affected by the HIV epidemic.1.5 million Ugandans are living with HIV, and today adolescents with HIV are standing proudly—without shame—on the front lines of efforts to secure access to quality HIV treatment and prevention for all, with dignity,” said Nakibuuka Noor Musisi, of CEHURD.
“Pastor Ssempa’s cruel attempt to deny HIV positive people the right to celebrate themselves is an affront to Uganda’s constitution, and contradicts common sense. HIV stigma among young people with HIV too often results in shame and depression.
Interruptions in access to life saving HIV treatment services among adolescents is commonplace because of stigma. UNYPA’s beauty pageant is a powerful program to fight stigma and should be amplified and expanded.”
CEHURD is arguing that the stigmatizing and discriminatory remarks made by Pastor Martin Ssempa should be investigated aggressively by the Equal Opportunities Commission, and should result in an appropriate remedy for Ugandans.
While appearing before the court as witness, Nawanyanga Gloria requested Pastor Ssempa to publicly apologise to herself, young people living with HIV and to her organization, Y+ (Uganda Young Positives), and use his substantial public following to address HIV stigma and to amplify the call of Y+ for people living with HIV to live positively.
The Court of Uganda’s Equal Opportunities Commission is established to ensure the equality of people.
Today’s hearing was triggered after CEHURD wrote to the Equal Opportunities Commission drawing to its attention the continued discrimination and stigmatization of people living with HIV on social media platforms through messages posted by Pastor Martin Ssempa in July 2019.
They requested the Commission to investigate and take necessary action.
“Pastor Ssempa’s rhetoric targeting people living with HIV weakens Uganda’s effort to prevent, treat and defeat HIV. He is fueling stigma and discrimination, which is associated with worse health outcomes for people living with HIV.
In addition to a positive judgement in this case, the government of Uganda should repeal the discriminatory laws set out in the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Act, which criminalize people living with HIV and increase the likelihood of precisely the disparaging remarks we have observed from Pastor Ssempa.”