By Thom Senzee
Originally published on Advocate.com June 11 2014 8:21 PM ET
The United Nations General Assembly elected Uganda's minister of foreign affairs, Sam Kutesa, as its next president Wednesday — even as a petition calling for the U.S. to revoke his visa because of his support of Uganda's antigay policies grew to more than 13,000 signatures.
Black Star News reported today that the United Kingdom once considered revoking Kutesa's visa due to alleged corruption, citing information it pulled from WikiLeaks.
Yet a statement from a top American diplomat appeared to both congratulate Kutesa and put him on notice that the United States will be monitoring how his one-year term as president affects the General Assembly's work to improve the situation of LGBT people as well as women and girls — especially in Africa.
"It is fitting that it is Africa’s turn to nominate a President for the upcoming 69th General Assembly session in a year in which the Assembly will make important decisions on such critical issues to the region — and the world — as crafting a transformative new development agenda to succeed the Millennium Development Goals," said Ambassador Samantha Powers, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said in a written statement Wednesday.
The U.N. General Assembly's Africa Group nominated the Ugandan foreign minister to serve as president in May of last year. It was the Africa Group's turn to have the presidency, and no other nominees were considered.
LGBT Ugandans have been subjected to a harsh antigay law that Kutesa vociferously supported and that his boss, President Yoweri Museveni, signed last February. It imposes lifetime jail sentences for many types of same-sex contact, criminalizes the intent to commit homosexual acts or promotion of homosexuality, and prescribes seven-year jail terms for any person who harbors, supports, or affirms a known LGBT person.
Despite promises the U.S. would get tough on Uganda by enacting sanctions and official admonitions for enacting its antigay law, neither the White House nor the State Department expressed opposition to Kutesa's nomination as General Assembly president.
Instead, the State Department's Samantha Powers offered reminders about the missions of the U.N. and the General Assembly as part of her response to Kutesa's election Wednesday.
"The U.N. Charter places respect for human rights and dignity at its core, and it is the job of the General Assembly — and its President — to uphold these principles," Powers said in her written statement. Powers did mention the plight of LGBT citizens as well as women and girls in countries such as Nigeria, Uganda, and myriad other parts of the developing world, without naming any country specifically.
"At a time when girls are attacked by radical extremists for asserting their right to an education; representatives of civil society are harassed and even imprisoned for their work; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are endangered for who they are, including by discriminatory laws, the work of the United Nations to advance equality, justice, and dignity for all could not be more urgent," Powers stated.
As The Advocate reported on Tuesday, Kutesa's election as General Assembly president comes with lingering corruption charges, some dating back decades and some very recent. Kutesa has also made virulently antigay remarks and called gays "disgusting."