Uganda responds defiantly to US sanctions over anti-gay legislation | Africa | DW | 20.06.2014
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Uganda responds defiantly to US sanctions over anti-gay legislation

The Ugandan government says it will not repeal tough laws against homosexuality, despite increasing pressure from the international community. The US is imposing sanctions against the East African state.

On Thursday (19.06.2014) the US announced plans to ban some Ugandan officials from entering the country and to suspend some aid donations.

The move comes just over a week after the election of Uganda's Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa as president of the United Nations General Assembly. Western nations represented at the UN were opposed to his election due to Uganda's position on homosexuality. It was Africa's turn to take the largely ceremonial appointment and Kutesa was the continent's unanimous choice.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signing the3 anti-gay legislation

President Museveni signs the anti-gay legislation into law

In February 2014, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed laws that allow life imprisonment for acts of "aggravated" homosexuality, which include intercourse with a minor and HIV transmission. Ugandan members of parliament had earlier proposed the death penalty for anyone caught in acts of homosexuality with another person below the age of 18.

The US measures include travel restrictions on some Ugandan government officials and the freezing of finance earmarked for a number of government programs. Minister Kutesa told DW that the Ugandan government would find resources elsewhere to fill the gap. “It is assistance, we need it, but if someone chooses to take it away, it their decision,” he said.

The US had scheduled a military aviation exercise with the UgandanPeople's Defense Forces, but that has been cancelled. Other programs involving the Ugandan police force will probably also be put on ice.

Gay and human rights activists at the Constitutional Court

Gay and human rights activists have taken the matter to Uganda's Constitutional Court

In a statement on the sanctions, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said "LGBT rights are human rights and the steps taken make clear that the United States will take action to defend those rights. The discriminatory laws in Uganda that criminalizes homosexual status should be repealed, as should laws and policies in the more than 76 countries around the world that criminalize homosexuality."

Court challenge

Within Uganda, the anti-gay legislation is being challenged in the country's Constitutional Court. Human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo says there is a chance the law could be declared unconstitutional. He said in his view, the law "seriously violates fundamental human rights, not just for people living with HIV AIDS, but people with disability and the LGBTI community."

Opiyo said the Ugandan authorities should "respond to the concerns that have been raised by the US."

In an earlier sign of disapproval, the World Bank postponed a loan worth 90 million dollars (66 million euros) after President Yoweri Museveni signed the bill into law in February.

'Overwhelming support' within Uganda

Two African lesbians hold hands (faces not shown)

Homosexuality is illegal in 36 African countries, according to Amnesty International

In an interview with DW's AfricaLink program, Professor Mwanguhya Ndebesa from Makerere University's department of political science said President Yuseveni had signed the law, despite earlier reluctance, in response to the public mood and with a view to elections scheduled for 2016. He said there was "overwhelming support" for the legislation in Uganda. Ndebesa suspects the US is just trying to see if Museveni can be persuaded to change his mind but their own strategic interests in East Africa mean that "the US would back down if Uganda maintains its position."

Several other Western nations, including Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands also froze aid after Uganda passed the law.

In January 2013, the then German development minister Dirk Niebel froze direct budget aid to Uganda, citing as the reason the country's hostile policy towards gays and lesbians. The sanctions were later relaxed and aid was restarted in the form of project assistance.

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