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The nation’s largest LGBT-rights organization urged President Barack Obama to take immediate and concrete steps to hold Uganda accountable for the enactment of an anti-LGBT law earlier this year.
In a June 2 letter to Obama, HRC President Chad Griffin wrote that to delay an “immediate demonstration of significant consequences” puts the lives of LGBT Ugandans at risk.
“President Museveni must understand that there will be continuing and long term political and economic consequences to state-driven homophobia,” Griffin wrote. “An immediate demonstration of significant consequences, moreover, will put other leaders who are considering similar bills on notice that enacting anti-LGBT laws will effect their country’s relationship with the United States. A further review that incorporates Nigeria, Russia, and Brunei – countries that recently passed heinous anti-LGBT laws – is also imperative to signal to the world that these consequences are not directed solely towards Africa.”
Earlier this year, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act further enhancing penalties against homosexuality, prompting international condemnation and criticism from Obama himself. Violators of the law face a 14-year prison sentence for a second conviction, and up to life in prison for repeat offenses. Obama had encouraged Museveni not to sign the bill, and White House press secretary Jay Carney described to the day the bill was signed as a “sad day for Uganda.”
In March, the Obama administration confirmed a series of cuts in aid to Uganda in response to law. The announcement came one month after Secretary of State John Kerry said Museveni’s signing of the law had 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.”
Despite those cuts, HRC believes more must be done and argues the Obama administration’s response to this law will set the precedent for how the U.S. responds to anti-LGBT legislation in other nations.
“The issues of governance, food security, humanitarian assistance, and the precedent that this review sets are intertwined and complicated,” Griffin wrote. “Nevertheless, more than three months since the enactment of this law, I respectfully ask that you direct the Administration’s interagency review to begin issuing immediate, concrete results that will illustrate the United States’s commitment to protecting human rights in Uganda.”
As noted by Griffin, a recent report published by Ugandan activists details an increase in violence against LGBT Ugandans as well as loses of property, homes and income.
“LGBT Ugandans are forced to once again live in the shadows,” Griffin wrote. “We must give brave LGBT Ugandans hope.”
In a presidential proclamation released by the White House last week declaring June LGBT Pride month, Obama stated that America’s commitment to advancing LGBT equality extends to other nations.
“In many places around the globe, LGBT people face persecution, arrest, or even state-sponsored execution. This is unacceptable,” Obama stated. “The United States calls on every nation to join us in defending the universal human rights of our LGBT brothers and sisters.”
UPDATE: In a statement to Metro Weekly, White House National Security Council Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell responded to the letter from HRC, stating that additional steps will be taken:
Uganda’s decision to enact the Anti-Homosexuality Act runs counter to universal human rights and to human dignity. In response to President Museveni’s decision to assent to the Anti-Homosexuality Act, the United States took immediate steps to demonstrate our support for the LGBT community in Uganda, deter other countries from enacting similar laws, and reinforce our commitment to the promotion and defense of human rights for all people – including LGBT individuals. Among other things we took steps to redirect funding away from program implementers whose actions do not reflect our values, to shift military and intelligence exercises to other locations, and to suspend certain near-term invitational travel for Ugandan military and police officials.
We are also mindful, as the letter indicates, of the wide range of issues encompassed by our relationship with Uganda–including our humanitarian support for the Ugandan people, our efforts to counter the murderous Lord’s Resistance Army, and our security interests in the region.
As we move forward, we will take additional steps to demonstrate our opposition to the Act and our support for LGBT persons in Uganda and around the world—recognizing that the struggle to end discrimination against LGBT persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States commitment to promoting human rights.