By Thom Senzee
Originally published on Advocate.com June 23 2014 7:45 PM ET
Uganda swiped back at Washington today, saying that the "most vulnerable" Ugandans would bear the brunt of the impact of new U.S. sanctions announced last week as part of the Obama Administration's response to the east African country's brutal new antigay law, which calls for sentences of life in prison for some who engage in homosexual acts, reports Agence France-Presse.
"Uganda considers this announcement by the US regrettable as some of the halted funding and programmes in Uganda are those that will affect the most vulnerable people that the US government purports to support and aims to protect," the foreign affairs ministry said in written statement.
Uganda's so-called Anti-Homosexuality Act also requires landlords, family members, employers and others to cut all ties with LGBT people — or face up to seven years in prison for aiding and "promoting homosexuality."
Recently, the Human Rights Campaign and American Jewish World Service reported that violence against LGBT Ugandans has risen since the Anti-Homosexuality Act was passed by the Ugandan Parliament in December of last year, and signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni in February.
Today's statement from Uganda's Foreign Ministry signals that Washington has at least succeeded in getting the attention of Museveni's highest cabinet officials with regard to LGBT rights as an official U.S. priority. Nevertheless, Uganda's foreign ministry attempted to brush off the importance of the new U.S. sanctions.
"There are more areas of cooperation between the Uganda and the US, as the two countries continue to share a lot in common on both regional and international issues," the statement said.
But human and LGBT rights groups remain optimistic about the significance of last week's announcement of new sanctions against Uganda.
"This announcement sends a clear message that the United States will not tolerate foreign governments engaging in state-sponsored acts of homophobia and transphobia against their own people,” said Ty Cobb, director of global engagement for the Human Rights Campaign, when the sanctions were announced last week.
After growing pressure to formally and forcefully respond to Uganda's draconian law, the U.S. last week announced that it would deny entry into the United States for some Ugandan officials who are known violators of the human rights of LGBT people. The U.S. will also begin redirecting some foreign aid funds previously sent to Ugandan government agencies to nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations that support the rights and well-being of LGBT people. The White House also rescinded plans to have Uganda as the site for a new $3-million health institute in east Africa, cancellation of a major U.S. Deptartment of Defense avation excercise as part of its "AFRICOM" program, and loss of funding for Uganda's community policing initiative.
While last week's sanctions were welcomed news, many activists, including Milton Alimadi, are still waiting for the U.S. to oppose Uganda's foreign minister, Sam Kutesa, who less than two weeks ago was elected to serve as the United Nations General Assembly president for one year beginning in September.
"Secretary Kerry and the Obama administration need to do the right thing and oppose Kutesa," Alimadi told The Advocate during a recent interview. He started a petition at Change.org calling on the State Department to formally oppose Kutesa's appointment as president of the General Assembly. The State Department has so far declined to do so.