UN Envoy for AIDS in Africa Must Go

Posted by ARASA on February 27, 2014

Dear Mr. Secretary-General,

We write to you out of deep concern regarding Ms. Speciosa Wandira-Kazibwe, UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. In the wake of Uganda’s passage of a law criminalizing homosexuality, Ms. Wandira-Kazibwe’s reprehensible silence, and her ongoing position as a senior advisor to President Museveni, threaten to undermine the credibility and independence of the United Nations. We urge you to terminate her position as Special Envoy and appoint an impartial advocate for the rights of all Africans.

As you are aware, President Museveni of Uganda signed a bill into law this week that institutionalizes discrimination and punishes homosexual relationships with life imprisonment. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay denounced the law as a violation of “a host of fundamental human rights” that “will have a negative impact on efforts to prevent transmission and provide treatment for people living with HIV.” Through your spokesperson, you indicated that you shared these views and are “seriously concerned” about the negative impact of the new law.

In the weeks and months after Parliament voted in favor of the destructive, retrograde bill, Uganda’s LGBT and HIV activists mobilized a massive effort by advocates, organizations, and leaders from around the world appealing to President Museveni to withhold his signature. Yet amidst the chorus of condemnation, and in the face of the profound damage this law will cause to HIV service provision throughout Uganda and the continent, Ms. Wandira-Kazibwe lurked in the shadows, never using the public platform given her by the United Nations. No speeches were made and no press statements were given. In fact, we understand that when asked to intervene on behalf of a prominent gay Ugandan seeking asylum in South Africa, Ms. Wandira-Kazibwe privately asserted that she could not, because there is no proof that gay activists in Uganda are being persecuted. In the hours since then, a major newspaper in the country has published a long list of Ugandans who are open about or “suspected of” being gay. Ms. Wandira-Kazibwe’s public silence throughout speaks volumes.

Mr. Secretary-General, your chosen messenger’s failure to denounce her president’s odious actions and stand up for the rights of LGBT living at risk of and affected by HIV casts a pall over the United Nations. It impugns the impartiality and credibility of the office of Special Envoy. If her position as special advisor to President Museveni precludes such a public stance, then she must leave that government role immediately. If she refuses to resign, then you must divest her of her UN role. Ms. Wandira-Kazibwe’s split loyalty presents an obvious conflict of interest that has damaged her credibility. Continued inaction by your office risks damaging yours as well.

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Christina Magill