Anti-gay law prompts U.S. review of Uganda relations

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The signing of an anti-gay law by Uganda’s president drew harsh criticism from the United States Monday, prompting an internal review of U.S. relations with the African nation.

Both the White House and State Department criticized Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s decision to put his signature on the bill, which criminalizes homosexuality. Violators of the law face a 14-year prison sentence for a second conviction, and up to life in prison for repeat offenses. 

According to a statement from Secretary of State John Kerry, the enactment of the law has prompted an “internal review of our relationship with the Government of Uganda to ensure that all dimensions of our engagement, including assistance programs, uphold our anti-discrimination policies and principles and reflect our values.”

This is a tragic day for Uganda and for all who care about the cause of human rights. Ultimately, the only answer is repeal of this law. 

The United States is deeply disappointed in the enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda. For the four years since the bill was introduced, we have been crystal clear that it blatantly violates human rights obligations that Uganda’s Human Rights Commission itself has recognized are enshrined in Uganda’s Constitution

Today’s signing threatens a dangerous slide backward in Uganda’s commitment to protecting the human rights of its people and a serious threat to the LGBT community in Uganda. 

We are also deeply concerned about the law’s potential to set back public health efforts in Uganda, including those to address HIV/AIDS, which must be conducted in a non-discriminatory manner in order to be effective.

As President Obama stated, this legislation is not just morally wrong, it complicates a valued relationship.  Now that this law has been enacted, we are beginning an internal review of our relationship with the Government of Uganda to ensure that all dimensions of our engagement, including assistance programs, uphold our anti-discrimination policies and principles and reflect our values. 

From Nigeria to Russia and Uganda, we are working globally to promote and protect the human rights of all persons.  The United States will continue to stand against any efforts to marginalize, criminalize, and penalize vulnerable persons in any society.

Meanwhile, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters it is a “sad day for Uganda,” but provided no timetable on when the review may be completed.

“Instead of standing on the side of freedom, justice, and equal rights for its people, today, regrettably, Ugandan President Museveni took Uganda a step backward by signing into law legislation criminalizing homosexuality,” Carney said in a statement. “As President Obama has said, this law is more than an affront and a danger to the gay community in Uganda, it reflects poorly on the country’s commitment to protecting the human rights of its people and will undermine public health, including efforts to fight HIV/AIDS. We will continue to urge the Ugandan government to repeal this abhorrent law and to advocate for the protection of the universal human rights of LGBT persons in Uganda and around the world.”

Earlier this month, President Obama issued a statement urging Museveni not to sign the bill and warning that its enactment would complicate the relationship between the U.S. and Uganda.

The Human Rights Campaign repeated its call for Kerry to recall the U.S. ambassador to Uganda. According to HRC’s director of global engagement, Ty Cobb, “A temporary recall will send one of the clearest signals possible that the United States will not tolerate such abuses to any person’s human rights.”

[Photo: John Kerry (left) and Barack Obama. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.]

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's political editor and White House correspondent. He can be reached at jsnow@metroweekly.com.

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