National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said in a statement the State Department is “taking measures” to prevent Ugandan officials “involved in serious human rights abuses” against LGBT people and others from entering the U.S. The White House will also seek travel bans against Ugandans who are “found responsible for significant public corruption.”
The Obama administration will also discontinue or redirect funds for programs with the Ugandan Police Force, the Ugandan Ministry of Health and National Public Health Institute. The White House also cancelled an American-sponsored “aviation exercise” in the East African country.
The announcement did not identify the officials who are specifically targeted.
“None of these steps diminishes our commitment to providing development and humanitarian support for the Ugandan people, or our partnership with the Ugandan government to counter the murderous Lord’s Resistance Army and improve security in Africa,” said Hayden. “We will seek to advance these interests even as we continue — in Uganda and around the world — to oppose discriminatory practices and champion human rights for all.”
The announcement comes nearly four months after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.
The White House subsequently announced it would review its relationship with the East African country.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agreement that funded the salaries of 87 employees of the Ugandan Ministry of Health who support the country’s response to the HIV/AIDS ended in February. The U.S. a few weeks later suspended a study to identify groups at risk for HIV/AIDS the CDC had planned to conduct with a Ugandan university.
Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBT advocacy group, told the Washington Blade on Thursday during an interview in D.C. where he is attending a forum with other African human rights advocates that he welcomes the announcement.
“It’s very important,” said Mugisha.
Mugisha told the Blade he feels the announcement sends a “very strong signal” to other African governments and countries that are seeking to enact anti-gay laws similar to Uganda’s. He welcomed the Obama administration’s decision to only target individual Ugandan officials as opposed to the entire country.
“It’s made out of good faith,” said Mugisha. “It doesn’t affect the ordinary Ugandan, but it affects people who are promoting homophobia, people who are promoting violence.”
Other LGBT rights advocates also welcomed the announcement.
“We compliment the administration for its thorough evaluation of U.S. programs in Uganda,” said Robyn Lieberman of Human Rights First. “The steps announced today will send a message to the Ugandan government and others that scapegoating or targeting LGBT people is a violation of basic human rights and creates an unstable and dangerous environment.”
LGBT Ugandans and advocacy groups have faced increased pressure from local authorities since Museveni signed the law.
Police in April raided a U.S.-funded HIV/AIDS service organization in Kampala, the country’s capital, after authorities claimed it recruited teenage boys and young men “into homosexual practices.” An advocate who recently sought asylum in the Netherlands told the Blade the law forced the HIV/AIDS service organization he co-founded to close.
John Abdallah Wambere, a prominent Ugandan LGBT rights advocate, last month applied for asylum in the U.S. because of the additional persecution he said he would face in his homeland because of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice have spoken directly with Museveni over his decision to sign the law.
“From Uganda to Russia to Iran, LGBT communities face discriminatory laws and practices that attack dignity, undermine safety, and violate human rights,” said Kerry on Thursday during his speech at the Gay and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies’ annual Pride celebration at the State Department. “We each have a responsibility to push back against a global trend of rising violence and discrimination against LGBT persons.”
Uganda receives nearly $300 million each year through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to fight the epidemic. Kampala last year received more than $485 million in aid from the U.S.