U.S. State Dept. Envoy Meets With Ugandan Leaders on Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Jim Burroway

November 27th, 2012

In Monday’s daily State Department briefing, the subject of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill was raised by a Washington Blade reporter. Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokesperson, said that Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson met with Ugandan leaders last weekend and raised concerns about the bill, which is expected to be debated in Parliament as early as this week:

“As we have regularly said, we call on the parliament of Uganda to look very carefully at this because Uganda’s own Human Rights Council has made clear that if this were to pass, it would put the country out of compliance with its own international human rights obligations,” Nuland said. “And so, (Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie) Carson had a chance to make that point again and our strong opposition to this, to the president, to the parliament and to key decision makers in Uganda.”

Nuland confirmed that the bill was passed out of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee last week, but was unable to confirm reports that the committee recommended the removal of the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” because the committee has refused to make the draft recommendations public.

“I don’t know that we have actually seen the version that passed committee,” Nuland said. “They’ve been a little bit close hold about this, partly because there’s been so much controversy in the international community. So our concern is about any criminalization of homosexuality, obviously.”

Last Friday, the BBC rushed to report that the death penalty had been removed from the bill. In fact, nobody knows what the committee has recommended because the committee has refused to release its report to the public. In further fact, if the committee did recommend removing the death penalty, that only means that the committee recommended its removal. It’s actual removal would only happen if the full Parliament votes to accept the committee’s recommendation, which hasn’t happened yet. So despite reports to the contrary, the death penalty has not been removed, and we don’t even know for sure whether the committee has even recommended its removal. The last time the committee claimed to have recommended its removal in 2011, it turned out that it only recommended a slight change to the bill to make the death penalty’s presence much less obvious.

Nuland refused to say whether Carson raised the possibility of cuts to American aid to Uganda if the Anti-Homosexuality Bill becomes law:

“I’m not going to get into any hypothetical situations,” Nuland said. “Our focus now is on raising awareness of the concerns within Uganda about this bill, so we don’t get to that stage.”

Asked by another reporter about whether a pledge to cut aid would be “a good, strong point to make” if the United States opposes the bill, Nuland said she won’t “make prospective points from the podium here about where we might go if this bill passes.”

The Blade has a full transcript of the exchange. Britain, Sweden, and the European Union have warned that the bill’s passage would place their aid to Uganda in jeopardy. LGBT advocates in Uganda caution that direct threats of cutting aid has in the past sparked backlashes against LGBT people there, and would almost certainly be counterproductive among Ugandan politicians. They’ve instead urged the kind of back-channel discussions which appear to be taking place now. Carson’s direct involvement is encouraging, since he is a more senior State Department diplomat than the local U.S. ambassador in Kampala. Carson has been engaged with senior Uganda officials over the Anti-Homosexuality Bill since it was first introduced in 2009.


November 27th, 2012

… it would put the country out of compliance with its own international human rights obligations,” Nuland said.

Uh, no they wouldn’t be. At least according to the very bill under discussion. To wit:

Part V – Miscellaneous

18. Nullification of inconsistent international treaties, protocols, decelerations and conventions

(1) Any international legal instrument whose provisions are contradictory to the spirit and provisions enshrined in the Act, are null and void to the extent of their inconsistency

So if the further criminalization of homosexuality leads to conflict with international human rights obligations then the Ugandan government will simply legislate those human rights obligations away and pretend they never existed in the first place.

LGBT advocates in Uganda caution that direct threats of cutting aid has in the past sparked backlashes against LGBT people there, and would almost certainly be counterproductive among Ugandan politicians.

I seem to remember these self same Ugandan politicians stating that if it came down to the choice between passing this bill and further criminalizing homosexuality and receiving international aid the Ugandan government would not bow to international pressure and pass the bill regardless of the consequences.

They’ve instead urged the kind of back-channel discussions which appear to be taking place now.

I simply cannot fathom why the United States seems to think that “having a discussion” regarding human rights issues such as this is what is needed. There should be no discussion or negotiations on the subject. The United States simply needs to tell the Ugandan government that if this bill passes in any form then the United States will immediately end all financial and economic aid to Uganda and will issue a travel ban to the country and will also urge all other countries to do the same. Period. End of Discussion.

There should be no negotiations when it comes to Human Rights! The ball is in the Ugandan government’s hand. We’ll just have to see what they are going to do with it.

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