The Washington Blade has learned a congressional delegation is expected to meet with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni next week amid outrage over the passage of a bill that would impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) will lead the delegation that includes U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) and Erik Paulsen who are scheduled to travel to Uganda on Jan. 23. A source familiar with the trip told the Blade the lawmakers are scheduled to meet with Museveni while they are in the East African country.
A copy of an itinerary the source forwarded to the Blade indicates the lawmakers will also travel to Germany, Turkey, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Rwanda and Niger before returning to the U.S. on Jan. 26.
“The purpose of the CODEL’s (congressional delegation’s) engagements in Africa is to better understand how to address the ‘Arc of Instability’ through the center of Africa so the SASC (Senate Armed Services Committee) can support USG (U.S. government) efforts to address the underlying causes of our problems on the continent rather than just reacting to the symptoms,” it reads.
The source familiar with the trip told the Blade the delegation will focus on efforts to combat the Lord’s Resistance Army that led a bloody insurgency against the Ugandan government from 1986-2006. Inhofe and other U.S. lawmakers are also expected to discuss counter-terrorism efforts against the Somali Islamist militant group al-Shabab, the escalating conflict in South Sudan and “other U.S. interests.”
The source told the Blade the lawmakers have rejected Ugandan LGBT rights advocates’ requests to meet with them while in the East African country.
“We understand that Sen. Inhofe will be meeting with President Museveni and we believe other officials in Uganda on Jan. 23,” Maria Burnett of Human Rights Watch told the Blade on Friday. “We understand that they have been close for many, many years and maintain a great deal of dialogue on a range of issues. And given the recent events on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, it seems like a crucial time for Sen. Inhofe to restate his lack of support of the bill quite clearly.”
Ugandan lawmakers on Dec. 20 approved the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that originally contained a provision that would have imposed the death penalty on anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. The measure would also criminalize the promotion of homosexuality.
The White House, Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay are among those who criticized the measure’s passage. Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, announced after Ugandan lawmakers approved the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that his company would not do business in the country.
Museveni’s spokesperson told Agence France-Presse on Jan. 2 the Ugandan president “won’t rush” to sign the measure into law. A Ugandan newspaper on Friday reported Museveni has blocked the bill because Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga allowed a vote on the measure without the required number of lawmakers needed for quorum.
Uganda is among the more than 70 countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized.
The Center for Constitutional Rights in March 2012 filed a federal lawsuit against Scott Lively in Massachusetts on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBT advocacy group, that accuses the evangelical Christian of exploiting homophobic attitudes in the East African country and encouraging lawmakers to approve the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. U.S. District Judge Michael A. Posner of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts last August ruled the group’s lawsuit can move forward.
Ugandan Parliamentarian David Bahati, who introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in 2009, has ties to the Fellowship Foundation, a Christian evangelical group that hosts the annual National Prayer Breakfast in D.C. Inhofe is also closely aligned with the secretive organization also known as “The Family.”
The Oklahoma Republican told MSNBC host Rachel Maddow during a 2012 interview he had “never heard” of Bahati when she asked him about the parliamentarians’ claims the idea for the Anti-Homosexuality Bill came from a conversation he had with members of the Fellowship.
“I do not, nor have I ever, supported or condoned this legislation,” said Inhofe in an Oct. 2011 statement to the website Red Dirt Report. “It is my hope that Uganda will abandon this unjust and extraordinarily harsh legislation.”
The Oklahoma Republican has not publicly spoken about the measure since Ugandan lawmakers approved it.
“Frankly this is not the only human rights issue that we think would be important for a high-level American delegation to raise with President Museveni,” Burnett told the Blade. “We have a lot of other concerns, such as obstacles to Ugandans rights to expression and assembly, but Senator Inhofe happens to be going at a particularly significant moment in the course of this bill.”
Inhofe’s spokesperson, Donelle Harder, denied reports the delegation will meet with the Ugandan president while in his country.
“It appears someone gave you a bad itinerary as the members are not meeting with Museveni,” she told the Blade. “Sen. Inhofe will be in Uganda briefly to meet with local officials regarding the [Lord's Resistance Army.]”
A U.S. State Department spokesperson deferred to the staffers of the delegation members.