Wikileaks Posts Cables from US Embassy in Uganda Concerning Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Jim Burroway

February 17th, 2011

[Update: As Paul Canning points out, these cables were originally released more than a week ago on the Spanish daily El Pais.]

The Guardian (UK) today posted cables provided by Wikileaks from the U.S. embassy in Uganda concerning that nation’s consideration of the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill. In an accompanying article, The Guardian highlighted murdered LGBT rights advocate David Kato’s reluctant participation in a UN-sponsored debate in December, 2009, in which he was mocked during his speech. According to the cables,

(Kato) delivered a well-written speech against the bill, but his words were almost inaudible due to “his evident nervousness”. Throughout his talk a member of the Ugandan Human Rights Commission “openly joked and snickered” with supporters of the bill, the diplomat claimed in the cable.

The Christmas Eve, 2009 cable provide more context:

Bahati’s late arrival delayed the event for more than an hour, and the UHRC failed to seat any representative of those opposed to the legislation at the head table, despite seating Bahati and – for unexplained reasons – Uganda’s most outspoken anti-gay activist Martin Ssempa. A comment by an audience member later prompted the UHRC to correct this imbalance by inviting a clearly hesitant and nervous SMUG leader, David Kato, to sit beside Ssempa on the dais. Ssempa proceeded to shake Kato’s hand while striking absurd poses for the assembled press corps.

Bahati’s remarks mirrored his private statements to PolOffs. Bahati also attacked the White House statement opposing the bill, saying that he admires President Obama, that President Obama ran on a platform of change, and that Uganda’s message to him is that “homosexuality is not a change but rather an evil that we must fight.” At this point the room erupted in loud applause, led by Ssempa pounding his hand on the head table, and Bahati observed that oil revenues will free Uganda of foreign entanglements. At other points in Bahati’s tirade against homosexuality, Ssempa registered his support by issuing audible sounds of disgust.

U.S. diplomat wrote of Bahati’s “isolation” following Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren’s condemnation of the bill. The diplomat wrote:

Recent condemnations by Warren and other U.S. based individuals have further isolated Bahati. His homophobia, however, is blinding and incurable. Bahati, Buturo, and particularly Ssempa’s ability to channel popular anger over Uganda’s socio-political failings into violent hatred of a previously unpopular but tolerated minority is chilling. XXXXXXXXXXXX described Ssempa as an anti-homosexuality “extremist.” XXXXXXXXXXXX said he opposes the legislation not because he favors homosexuality, but because legalizing persecution of homosexuals is the first step toward state sponsored persecution of other minority groups.

It’s not just other minority groups which were concerned, but the political opposition to President Yoweri Museveni’s 25-year rule as well:

In September, Otunnu accused state security services of running a smear campaign about his sexual orientation and HIV status to discredit a potential presidential bid (ref. D). XXXXXXXXXXXX speculated that Uganda could run a similar smear campaign against Besigye, forcing him to curtail presidential campaign activities.

XXXXXXXXXXXX said the opposition FDC fears Uganda will use the anti-homosexuality legislation against Besigye, and recalled government efforts to hobble Besigye’s 2006 presidential campaign by arresting him on spurious charges of rape, terrorism, and treason. XXXXXXXXXXXX speculated that Uganda could disrupt Besigye’s 2011 campaign with phony homosexuality allegations.

In a second cable dated February 10 and released by The Guardian, the U.S. diplomats in Uganda describe a meeting with local human rights activists whose names are redacted. The White House and the State Department had already by then condemned the bill. Activists expressed concerns that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was part of a larger effort to tilt tomorrow’s elections in favor of the entrenched ruling party:

XXXXXXXXXXXX placed the anti-homosexuality bill in the context of a general trend toward restricted human rights and democratic freedoms in Uganda. He said the anti-homosexuality bill is one of many regressive legislative initiatives that are not in the interests of all Ugandans and are intended to tilt the February 2011 presidential elections in the government’s favor. XXXXXXXXXXXX cited draft legislation to expand the Security Ministry’s monitoring of electronic communications, expanded and perhaps politically motivated enforcement of the 2002 Anti-Terrorism Act, the recently passed Land Amendment Act (ref. A), reduced press freedoms, and the slow pace of electoral reform as pressing human rights concerns. He encouraged the U.S. to treat these issues in the same manner as the anti-homosexuality bill, and said the anti-homosexuality issue is a government “gimmick” to divert attention away from other assaults on human rights and democratic freedoms that will ultimately undermine the integrity of the 2011 elections.

Uganda’s elections will be held tomorrow.

The cables go on to describe some of the fear and intimidation that the proposed legislation aroused in Uganda. The fear and intimidation extends beyond the beleaguered gay community, but goes into the political class as well:

XXXXXXXXXXXX said Members of Parliament who privately oppose the bill fear losing their seats if they speak out against the legislation, and therefore support the bill in public and will vote for it should it ever reach the parliamentary floor. XXXXXXXXXXXX said Bahati is blaming homosexuals for the spread HIV/AIDS, pornography, and increasing incidents of rape and defilement, and that the legislation is a diversionary ploy intended to steer attention away from real issues like corruption and the 2011 elections.

…Both XXXXXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXXX said local XXXXXXXXXXXX activists are using cellphones, blogs, and the internet to the extent possible, but stressed concerns about government monitoring of electronic communications. XXXXXXXXXXXX said one local human rights NGO had to switch its domain name after someone hacked its email address, and XXXXXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXXX said they and other activists have been forced to switch telephones and restrict electronic communications to avoid harassment and eavesdropping.

See also:
Feb 17, 2011: Wikileaks Posts Cables from US Embassy in Uganda Concerning Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Feb 17, 2011: More Wikileaks Cables on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 10, 2011: Wikileaks: Ugandan First Lady “Ultimately Behind” Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 11: 2011: More On Ugandan First Lady’s Support For Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 11, 2011: Wikileaks: Vatican Lobbied Against Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 12, 2011: Wikileaks on Uganda’s Homosexuality Bill: Museveni “Surprised” and Buturo “Obsessed”
Sep 12, 2011: Ugandan Presidential Aide Confirms Wikileaks Conversation
Sep 23, 2011: Ugandan First Lady Affirms Support For “Kill The Gays” Bill

paul canning

February 17th, 2011

Jim

these weren’t released by the Guardian – they’ve fallen out with Assange.

They were released by El Pais. See http://madikazemi.blogspot.com/2011/02/wikileaks-uganda-gays-and-us-state.html

Bruce Garrett

February 17th, 2011

They’re on the Guardian site just as quoted here. Not sure I see the distinction between releasing them and posting them.

David Roberts

February 17th, 2011

Maybe he was interested in credit to the original source? He’s correct about the falling out, but the Guardian does seem to have packaged these particular cables up nicely. And it’s good to see the redaction — hopefully some adults are handling the data now.

“the anti-homosexuality issue is a government “gimmick” to divert attention away from other assaults on human rights and democratic freedoms that will ultimately undermine the integrity of the 2011 elections.”

The scary thing is that this fits the way the bill has been bandied about all too well. If true, it’s still hard to determine who is being used and who is in on the original purpose. Disturbing to say the least.

paul canning

February 17th, 2011

Bruce

I fed the Guardian the story. Because it was in El Pais – dude, it’s in Spanish! – it wasn’t picked up by *anyone. Their report is Africa-wide and reveals US diplomatic concern across Africa, as per Hillary Clinton’s leadership.

Jim Burroway

February 17th, 2011

Paul’s comment was informative and most welcome. I prefer to give credit to the original source if I know it, and Paul’s comment informed me of the original source. It also led to some more cables of interest, which I’ve written about here.

paul canning

February 17th, 2011

This is why Jim is a god and I am not worthy … :}

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