Former Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank on Wednesday blasted the Ugandan government over a law that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.
The gay Democrat noted during a hearing the Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights held on the World Bank and human rights at the U.S. Capitol that he was among the members of Congress who in 2000 supported debt forgiveness for Uganda under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative.
“One of the things that we were told by some leaders of some countries who have engaged in vicious persecution of people who share my sexual orientation [is] ‘stay out of [our] business; you have no right to tell us what to do,’” said Frank. “Uganda was not so angry about gay people intruding in their business when in 2000, along with three of my colleagues, I was one of the leaders in passing a bill that gave them hundreds of millions of dollars in debt relief. We put that through and it was serious debt relief for Uganda.”
Frank also dismissed claims that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who signed the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law in February, and others have made that suggest the West brought homosexuality into Africa.
“The argument that we’re meddling in other people’s business; that’s total hypocrisy,” said the former congressman, referring once again to the 2000 debt cancellation. “People welcomed our help.”
Frank also noted during his testimony the U.S. backs efforts to combat HIV/AIDS in Uganda.
The East African country receives nearly $300 million each year through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to fight the epidemic. The Ugandan government in 2013 received more than $485 million in aid from the U.S.
“There was a tremendous response on the part of the United States to combat AIDS in Africa and it was led politically by the people the Ugandans are persecuting – gay men and lesbians,” said Frank. “The terrible nature of what they are doing is particularly undermined by the fact that they are turning around and persecuting people who were rightfully supporting them.”
The World Bank postponed a $90 million loan to the Ugandan government that had been earmarked to bolster its health care system after Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law.
The U.S. has suspended a study to identify groups at risk for HIV/AIDS that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had planned to conduct with a Ugandan university. A CDC agreement that funded the salaries of 87 employees of the Ugandan Ministry of Health who support the country’s response to the epidemic expired on Feb. 28.
“The world now accepts that sustainable development is impossible without human rights,” said Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern, who co-chairs the Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights, during the hearing.
Frank said decisions to delay loans and suspend foreign aid should not be “done ad hoc” because he feels countries that receive it can “complain” they had not been warned in advance.
“It’s important to have a framework in place so when a country contemplating anything that brutal in the future will be on notice,” he said.
Ugandan authorities on April 3 raided a health clinic and medical research facility in Kampala, the country’s capital, for allegedly conducting “unethical research” and “recruiting homosexuals.” The Makerere University Walter Reed Project receives funding through PEPFAR.
The Capitol Hill hearing coincided with the World Bank and the IMF’s spring meetings that will take place in D.C. this weekend.
Frank, who retired from Congress in 2012 after 16 terms in office, also emceed a reception at the Rayburn House Office Building that took place after he testified before the committee. LGBT rights advocates from countries that include Uganda, Lebanon, China and Russia joined Sara Aviel of the World Bank and U.S. Reps. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) and others.