President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken are denouncing Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act and warning of possible sanctions against the country.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the act into law Monday. It provides for the death penalty for what it calls “aggravated homosexuality,” including sex with a minor, sex while HIV-positive, and incest. Those convicted of having same-sex relations that are not of the “aggravated” variety can be imprisoned for life.
A previous anti-homosexuality law that did not include the death penalty was struck down in court in 2014, not because of its content but because of the manner in which it was passed by Parliament.
Biden issued a statement calling the new law “a tragic violation of universal human rights — one that is not worthy of the Ugandan people, and one that jeopardizes the prospects of critical economic growth for the entire country.” He continued, “I join with people around the world — including many in Uganda — in calling for its immediate repeal. No one should have to live in constant fear for their life or being subjected to violence and discrimination.”
He noted that anti-LGBTQ+ violence and discrimination have increased in the nation since the legislation was introduced. LGBTQ+ Ugandans are afraid to seek medical care, and “some have been evicted from their homes or fired from their jobs,” the president said.
He has directed the National Security Council to evaluate the law’s implications on all aspects of U.S. engagement with Uganda, including delivery of services under the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and other forms of assistance and investments, such as Uganda’s eligibility for the African Growth and Opportunity Act.
“And we are considering additional steps, including the application of sanctions and restriction of entry into the United States against anyone involved in serious human rights abuses or corruption,” Biden added.
Blinken released a statement saying, “Uganda’s failure to safeguard the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons is part of a broader degradation of human rights protections that puts Ugandan citizens at risk and damages the country’s reputation as a destination for investment, development, tourism, and refugees.”
The State Department “will develop mechanisms to support the rights of LGBTQI+ individuals in Uganda and to promote accountability for Ugandan officials and other individuals responsible for, or complicit in, abusing their human rights,” he went on. “I have also directed the Department to update our travel guidance to American citizens and to U.S. businesses as well as to consider deploying existing visa restrictions tools against Ugandan officials and other individuals for abuse of universal human rights, including the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons.”
The Congressional Equality Caucus likewise condemned the law. It “is a direct attack on the LGBTQI+ community and a horrific violation of their human rights,” said a statement from U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, who chairs the caucus. “The Equality Caucus stands in solidarity with the LGBTQI+ Ugandan community in the face of this extreme law that threatens their lives and wellbeing. I implore the Biden Administration to conduct a 360 review of our bilateral relationship with Uganda in order to advance a whole-of-government response, including by issuing sanctions against those who have championed and who commit human rights abuses against LGBTQI+ people in Uganda. Uganda — and any country looking to replicate this extreme law — must know the United States will not stand idly by as they threaten their citizens with criminalization and death just for being who they are.”
Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson responded as well, saying, “This new law to restrict the rights of LGBTQ+ Ugandans is by far the most horrific display of bigotry we have seen in recent memory in Uganda, and in all of Africa. … This law will have a ripple effect across the continent, as we are seeing similar laws being introduced, most recently in Kenya, with many being promoted by the same forces spreading anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in the United States. Additionally, we have seen this law’s chilling effects before it was even passed: Individuals have already been reported to officials for being LGBTQ+, despite breaking no laws. We must do everything in our power to ensure that this decision is reversed. We condemn this attack on LGBTQ+ lives to the fullest extent. No person or authority should have the right to decide who a person loves or how they identify.”
Health care activists expressed concern about how the law will affect efforts to combat HIV and AIDS in Uganda. “By signing this authoritarian, anti-human rights legislation, President Museveni is waging a deadly attack on his own citizens and further estranging Uganda from the rest of the world,” said a statement from Health GAP Executive Director Asia Russell. Museveni’s action … is a full-throated attack on queer Ugandans’ human rights to life and health. Uganda’s HIV response will be devastated as this legislation is enforced. Clinics providing lifesaving health care will have to choose between providing science-based services or following the new law. People will suffer at every turn simply for being who they are. And while Uganda’s economy will suffer due to his choice to promote Western fundamentalist Christian-driven hate-fueled legislation, it’s the incalculable suffering of LGBTQI+ Ugandans that is most devastating. We join civil society and HIV activists around the world in demanding this deadly law be repealed by Uganda’s courts.”
Also responding were Peter Sands, executive director of the Global Fund; Winnie Byanyima, executive director of UNAIDS and undersecretary general of the United Nations; and Ambassador Dr. John Nkengasong, U.S. global AIDS coordinator and special representative for global health diplomacy in the U.S. State Department.
“Uganda’s progress on its HIV response is now in grave jeopardy,” they said in a joint statement. “The Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 will obstruct health education and the outreach that can help end AIDS as a public health threat. The stigma and discrimination associated with the passage of the Act has already led to reduced access to prevention as well as treatment services. Trust, confidentiality, and stigma-free engagement are essential for anyone seeking health care. LGBTQI+ people in Uganda increasingly fear for their safety and security, and increasing numbers of people are being discouraged from seeking vital health services for fear of attack, punishment and further marginalization. Uganda has repeatedly demonstrated leadership and commitment to ending AIDS — and has achieved great success — by leaving no one behind. Together as one, we call for the Act to be reconsidered so that Uganda may continue on its path to ensure equitable access to health services and end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.”