U.S. Ratchets Up Response to Uganda's Antigay Law

The White House announced that the State Department will prevent some Ugandan officials from entering the U.S., and cut or redirect funds from Uganda's aid package.

BY Thom Senzee

June 19 2014 3:52 PM ET UPDATED: June 23 2014 8:25 PM ET

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden

The White House just announced additional actions it will take in formal response to Uganda's draconian Anti-Homosexuality Act, which prescribes life in prison for many LGBT people, and lengthy jail terms for anyone who "conspires" to commit homosexuality, or supports, houses, or affirms an LGBT person. 

Reuters first broke the news Thursday afternoon that the White House was planning to augment its initial reactions in March and April with additional steps. Shortly thereafter, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden issued a statement outlining those actions.

"As President Obama has stated, the Government of Uganda’s enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act runs counter to universal human rights and complicates our bilateral relationship," Hayden said in a written statement. "We announced in April a series of initial responses, and we have since considered how further to reinforce our support for human rights of all Ugandans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity."

The new sanctions include the denial of entry into the United States for some Ugandan officials who are known violators of the human rights of LGBT people. Hayden also promised the U.S. would soon be cutting off or "redirecting" some foreign-aid funds to Uganda. Previously, "redirecting of funds" has meant taking specifically purposed money from governmental agencies and giving it to nongovernmental organizations with similar missions.

Specific sanctions the White House announced in a blog post today include revoking 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.

However, Hayden's statement did not outline individual Ugandan officials to whom visas would be denied, nor did it offer a list of Ugandan government programs that will be losing American funding. The White House blog noted that privacy agreemnts prevent the State Department from issuing a list of individuals who to be denied entry into the country under these new measures.

Today's announcement also fell short of addressing Secretary of State John Kerry's promise to send "experts" from the U.S. to help Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni better understand the "science" of homosexuality. The Ugandan president said he decided to sign the draconinan legislation after being convinced — by a three-page report compiled by lawmakers from the president's party who claimed to have "medical backgrounds" — that homosexuality was not an innate trait, but a choice. 

Nevertheless, LGBT organizations applauded the administration's announcement.

"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. “We must put all world leaders on notice that such efforts have no place in the 21st century, and there will be severe consequences for engaging in them. This creates an important precedent for leaders and governments considering implementing similar laws. It is important that the Administration continues to review our diplomatic relationship with Uganda, as well as with other nations such as Nigeria and Brunei, which have also taken disturbing steps backwards.”

Just last week, HRC had expressed frustration with what it perceived as a slowness and lack of force in the White House's response to the Anti-Homosexuality, which was formally enacted in February.

As National Security Council staffers, Stephen Pomper and Grant Harris alluded to the broad impact the Anti-Homosexuality Act has had not just on LGBT Ugandans, but on those who support, love, and work with them. In commentary posted on the White House blog today, Pomper and Harris note that nongovernmental organizations, friends, families, employers and landlords of LGBT Ugandans are forced into being accomplices to AHA's draconian provisions — or face harsh legal consequences for aiding LGBTs and "promoting" homosexuality. Those consequences include up to seven years in jail.

"As President Obama made clear in February, the enactment of the AHA is more than an affront to the LGBT community in Uganda — it calls into question the Government of Uganda’s commitment to protecting the human rights of all its people, and complicates our bilateral relationship," wrote Pomper and Harris, who serve as senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights, and special assistant to the president-senior director for African affairs, respectively.

Tags: Uganda, World

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