Obama warns Uganda's president against signing anti-gay bill

Uganda president warned by its top donor country against pushing ahead with bill that prescribes life imprisonment for homosexual acts

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 February, 2014, 9:48am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 February, 2014, 9:48am

President Barack Obama’s government warned Uganda on Sunday over its plans to further criminalise homosexuality, saying it would “complicate our valued relationship”.

Defending gay rights around the world, as he has done at home, Obama said a bill that President Yoweri Museveni has pledged to sign will mark a “step backward” for all Ugandans and reflect poorly on the country’s commitment to protect the human rights of its people.

It also would represent a serious setback for anyone committed to freedom, justice and equal rights, Obama said.

Obama said the United States stands for the protection of fundamental freedoms and universal human rights and believes people everywhere should be treated equally.

“That is why I am so deeply disappointed that Uganda will shortly enact legislation that would criminalise homosexuality,” Obama said in a written statement issued from Southern California, where he was spending the weekend.

“The Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda, once law, will be more than an affront and a danger to the gay community in Uganda. It will be a step backward for all Ugandans and reflect poorly on Uganda’s commitment to protecting the human rights of its people. It also will mark a serious setback for all those around the world who share a commitment to freedom, justice and equal rights.

“Enacting this legislation will complicate our valued relationship with Uganda,” he said, adding that the US has conveyed that message to Museveni.

Homosexuality already is illegal in Uganda under a British colonial-era law that criminalises sex acts “against the order of nature”.

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda, once law, will be more than an affront and a danger to the gay community in Uganda. It will be a step backward
US President Barack Obama

After initially indicating he would shelve it, Museveni said last week that he planned to sign the new legislation, which has alarmed rights activists because it prescribes life imprisonment for acts of “aggravated homosexuality”. Those acts are defined as sex acts where one of the partners is infected with HIV, sex with minors or the disabled and repeated sexual offences among consenting adults.

It was unclear when Museveni would sign the bill. Ugandan lawmakers passed it in December and Museveni since has been under heavy pressure to enact it. The measure enjoys broad support among Christian clerics and lawmakers who say it is needed to deter Western homosexuals from “recruiting” Ugandan children.

Susan Rice, the US national security adviser, said on Twitter that she spoke “at length” with Museveni on Saturday evening and urged him not to sign the bill.

The United States is Uganda’s largest donor, sending more than US$400 million in aid annually in recent years. If Museveni signs the bill, the US is expected to review its relationship with the country with an eye on finding ways to register disappointment over the law.

Uganda is one of many sub-Saharan African countries where homosexuals face severe discrimination, if not jail terms. Nigeria last month increased penalties against gays there.

Obama has made support for gay rights a hallmark of his presidency.

He supports same-sex marriage and his administration eliminated the Clinton-era ban on openly gay service in the military.

For his State of the Union address last month, Obama included basketball player Jason Collins, the first male athlete on a major US sports team to announce that he is gay, among guests chosen to sit with first lady Michelle Obama. Obama has said Collins’ announcement marked a moment of progress for gays.

Obama also welcomed last week’s announcement by a University of Missouri football player and National Football League hopeful that he is gay.

The president also has spoken out against a Russian law banning gay propaganda, and included prominent gay athletes on the US delegations to the opening and closing ceremonies at the Sochi Olympics.