The Associated Press reported that Kutesa has close ties to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who signed the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law in February that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. The news agency notes that Kutesa’s daughter is married to the Ugandan president’s son.
Kutesa has also faced corruption and bribery allegations, as the AP reported.
Marianne Møllmann, director of programs for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, told the Washington Blade that Kutesa’s role as president of the U.N. General Assembly once he officially takes office in September is to “shepherd the assembly through a year of priorities, with respect for the U.N. Charter and the guiding principles of the organization.” She noted 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Women’s Conference that focused on the expansion of rights to women around the world.
“Sam Kutesa will not be able to help the General Assembly do its job without dealing with the damaging gender stereotypes that fuel homophobia and transphobia,” Møllman told the Blade. “We wish him the best of luck, and certainly will be most willing to support him in that endeavor.”
New York Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand both criticized Kutesa’s election. The Human Rights Campaign urged Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss Uganda’s LGBT rights record with Kutesa during their meeting earlier on Thursday.
The State Department did not immediately tell the Blade whether Kerry raised the issue during his meeting with Kutesa. Spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters during her daily press briefing on Thursday that it “would certainly be a disappointing step” if Uganda pursued its “public anti-gay agenda” at the U.N.
“We have been clear about our views on Uganda’s anti-homosexuality act,” said Psaki. “We believe it undermines human rights and human dignity for all persons in Uganda, and certainly if that were to be taken to a larger scale that would be greatly concerning.”
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power also specifically highlighted LGBT rights rights in her statement responding to Kutesa’s election.
“The U.N. Charter places respect for human rights and dignity at its core, and it is the job of the General Assembly — and its president — to uphold these principles,” said Power. “At a time when girls are attacked by radical extremists for asserting their right to an education; representatives of civil society are harassed and even imprisoned for their work; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are endangered for who they are, including by discriminatory laws, the work of the United Nations to advance equality, justice, and dignity for all could not be more urgent. In the face of these challenges, all of us working in and at the United Nations should recommit to vigorously defending these core principles.”
Uganda receives nearly $300 million each year through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to fight the epidemic in the East African country. Kampala in 2013 received more than $485 million in aid from the U.S.
The U.S. and a number of European countries cut aid to Uganda in response to Museveni’s decision to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The World Bank initially delayed a $90 million loan to the Ugandan government that had been earmarked to bolster the East African country’s health care system, but Kampala eventually received the funds.
LGBT rights advocates and HIV/AIDS service providers have come under increased pressure from Ugandan authorities since the Anti-Homosexuality Bill became law.
Police in April raided a U.S.-funded HIV/AIDS service organization in Kampala it said recruited teenage boys and young men “into homosexual practices.” Nikki Mawanda, a trans Ugandan advocate, told the Blade during an interview a few weeks later that anti-LGBT discrimination and violence has increased since Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
“It looks like the community-at-large has taken on the role of doing vigilante [justice,]” he said. “Since the law was signed on the 24th of February, people felt that they should implement the law even before it was gazetted.”
Museveni has repeatedly criticized the U.S. and other donor countries over their decision to cut aid.
A Ugandan government spokesperson did not return the Blade’s request for comment on the controversy surrounding Kutesa’s election as president of the U.N. General Assembly.
“I’m not homophobic,” Kutesa told reporters after his election as the AP reported. “I believe that I’m (the right) person to lead this organization for the next session.”
The U.N. in 2011 adopted a resolution in support of LGBT rights.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon over the last year has repeatedly spoken out against anti-LGBT discrimination and violence — including in a speech he gave during an International Olympic Committee meeting in Sochi, Russia, that took place a day before the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova and Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins are among those who took part in a panel on homophobia and transphobia sports that took place at the U.N. last December on the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The U.N. last July launched a global LGBT rights campaign that features Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin, Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly and other celebrities.