March 24, 2014 at 2:48 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Activists differ over calls to cut Uganda aid
Dickson Mujuni, RPL AIDS Foundation, Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

Dickson Mujuni of the RPL AIDS Foundation in Uganda working with youth
peer educators in the East African country. (Photo courtesy of Dickson

LGBT rights advocates in Uganda and other countries continue to disagree over whether the East African nation should lose foreign aid over a law that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

BuzzFeed late on Sunday reported the Obama administration will divert $6.4 million originally earmarked for the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda – which backs the Anti-Homosexuality Act that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed last month – to other organizations. The website also noted a study designed to identify groups at risk for HIV/AIDS the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had planned to conduct with a Ugandan university has been suspended.

Jonathan Lalley, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, told BuzzFeed the Obama administration will also redirect roughly $3 million that had been earmarked to promote tourism and biodiversity to non-governmental organizations that work on the issue. The website further reported the Pentagon has suspended or cancelled “near-term invitational travel” for Ugandan officials and plans to relocate events that had been scheduled to take place in the East African country in the coming weeks and months.

Dickson Mujuni of the RPL AIDS Foundation told the Washington Blade on Monday the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda should not receive U.S. aid because he said HIV/AIDS programs the group funds “don’t consider” the “most at-risk populations.”

“Those leaders themselves have been promoting homophobia, putting pressure on the president to assent to the AHB (Anti-Homosexuality Bill) which he did and commending him for signing that bill into law,” he said.

Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBT advocacy group, offered a different perspective.

“I don’t support aid cuts in any form,” he told the Blade. “People should know that those are country policies which don’t comply with legislation such as the anti-gay law.”

A number of African advocates who traveled to New York last December to attend the 65th anniversary of the U.N. General Assembly’s ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights told the Blade they oppose efforts to cut foreign aid to Uganda and other countries over their country’s LGBT rights records.

“We’re not asking the U.K. or foreign governments to cut aid to Africa,” said Juliet Mphande, executive director of Rainka Zambia, during a briefing the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission hosted. “LGBTI individuals are also Africans, so ultimately we all benefit from that aid.”

Ben Summerskill, who recently stepped down as chief executive of Stonewall U.K., last December applauded British Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to directly channel foreign aid to non-governmental organizations in Uganda and other countries with controversial human rights records. Summerskill spoke to the Blade in New Hampshire hours after the Ugandan Parliament approved the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

“I don’t think any LGBT campaigner, however strongly they feel about Uganda, would think that it was a good thing that people should starve just so we feel we’re making some progress around human rights for gay people,” said Summerskill.

The Obama administration last month announced after Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law that it had begun a review of its relationship with Uganda.

A CDC-funded program that fully or partially funded the salaries of 87 employees of the Ugandan Ministry of Health who support the country’s HIV/AIDS response ended on Feb. 28. The World Bank, the Netherlands and other European countries have also cut aid or postponed loans to the East African country after Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Uganda receives nearly $300 million each year through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to fight the epidemic in the East African country. The Ugandan government in 2013 received more than $485 million in aid from the U.S.

The Washington Post on Sunday reported the White House will send 150 Air Force special operations personnel and several aircraft to Uganda to help the country’s government track down Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army whom the International Criminal Court has indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity that stem from the group’s decades long insurgency against the Ugandan government. The Lord’s Resistance Army is among the issues that U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and four other members of Congress discussed with Museveni during a meeting on Jan. 23.

The delegation did not meet with Ugandan LGBT rights advocates while in the country, but Inhofe has repeatedly expressed his opposition to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill to the Blade.

“I certainly disagree with the controversial legislation that Uganda may enact in the coming days,” said the Oklahoma Republican before Museveni signed the measure into law. “It is my hope that the country will abandon this unjust and harsh legislation.”

Mugisha is among the Ugandan human rights advocates who signed onto a challenge of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law filed with the country’s Constitutional Court earlier this month.

“We are cognizant that there are many who share our concerns about Ugandan President Museveni’s recent enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act,” said Grant Harris and Stephen Pomper of the National Security Council on Monday. “Ensuring justice and accountability for human rights violators like the LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army] and protecting LGBT rights aren’t mutually exclusive. We can and must do both.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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