Tanzania’s health policy of denying adequate services to LGBT+ people and others who are vulnerable to AIDS is jeopardizing public health, Human Rights Watch warned in a recently released report.
HRW instead urged the Tanzanian government to reverse these policies, put an end to arbitrary arrests of LGBT people, and ban forced anal examinations that are used as spurious evidence of homosexual conduct.
The 112-page report, “‘If We Don’t Get Services We Will Die’: Tanzania’s Anti-LGBT Crackdown and the Right to Health,” documents how since 2016 the government of Tanzania has cracked down on LGBT people and the community-based organizations that serve them.
The Health Ministry in mainland Tanzania has prohibited community-based organizations from conducting outreach on HIV prevention to men who have sex with men and other key populations vulnerable to HIV.
It closed drop-in centers that provided HIV testing and other targeted and inclusive services, and banned the distribution of lubricant, essential for effective condom use for HIV prevention among key populations and much of the wider public.
“The Tanzanian authorities have orchestrated a systematic attack on the rights of LGBT people, including their right to health,” said Neela Ghoshal, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Manufactured threats around the so-called ‘promotion of homosexuality’ have displaced best practices and evidence-based approaches in guiding HIV policy in Tanzania.”
The Health Ministry claims that the specialized services and provision of lubricant promote homosexuality. It says that public health centers provide discrimination-free services so that there is no need for specialized services run by civil society organizations.
Human Rights Watch research found, however, that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in government health centers is common.
The Tanzanian authorities have also undermined the right to health through police raids on meetings and trainings by health and rights activists and their allies, including potentially lifesaving sessions about HIV, arresting participants. The raids have instilled fear within activist communities and among service providers and their beneficiaries.
In November 2018, when the regional official Paul Makonda threatened to arrest all gay men in Dar es Salaam, diplomatic missions and the World Bank objected.
In response, President Magufuli assured the World Bank that Tanzania would not pursue such policies. But arrests and discriminatory policies and actions continued.
In April 2019, the government’s Non-Governmental Organisation Co-ordination Board withdrew registration from Community Health Education and Advocacy Services (CHESA), a key organization serving LGBT people, on the grounds that it was “promoting unethical acts.” Deputy Home Affairs Minister Hamad Masauni publicly called for arrests of gay men while visiting Zanzibar in September.
When police have conducted arrests under Tanzania’s colonial-era law prohibiting “carnal knowledge against the order of nature,” they have sometimes instructed medical professionals to conduct forced anal examinations to collect “evidence” of anal intercourse.
These exams have no scientific basis and are a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment that can amount to torture. (Source: HRW)