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Uganda Anti-Gays Bill Stirs Calls for Sanctions

  • James Butty

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni has pledged to sign a bill punishing homosexuals with 14 years to life in prison. He is shown at the 2012 summit of the East African Community Heads of State in Nairobi.

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni has pledged to sign a bill punishing homosexuals with 14 years to life in prison. He is shown at the 2012 summit of the East African Community Heads of State in Nairobi.

The leader of Uganda’s newly formed political organization -- the Freedom and Unity Front – said it is time for the United States to impose sanctions on the government of President Yoweri Museveni.

Professor Amii Omara-Otunu said President Obama should also remove Uganda from the list of countries invited to an August White House summit with African leaders. Omara-Otunu is a Uganda scholar and associate professor of human rights at the University of Connecticut.

President Obama's remarks come after President Museveni said he is ready to sign into law an anti-homosexuality bill passed by parliament last December because there is “no scientific proof yet that people are homosexuals by genetics.”

President Museveni said he was ready for “battle” with “outside groups” sympathetic to homosexuals.

Obama Sunday said he was "deeply disappointed" Uganda is about to enact the legislation. In a statement, Obama said Uganda's anti-homosexuality law would be a "step backward” and reflects poorly on the country’s "commitment to protecting the human rights of its people.

Amara-Otunu said President Museveni should focus on meeting the basic needs of Ugandans and not exclude others because of their sexuality.

“I think President Obama should be more than disappointed. This is the time when the United States should really apply sanctions against Uganda, particularly because, in Uganda at the moment, there are lots of people dying without medication, lots of people going without proper schooling. And, we should be focusing our attention on the most vital issues that affect the welfare of the Ugandan people,” he said.

Uganda is one of 47 countries invited by Obama to a US-Africa summit in August in a bid to strengthen trade and investment ties with the continent.

Gambian-born Sulayman Nyang, senior professor and former chair of the African Studies Department at Howard University in Washington, said Obama must insist that those African leaders being invited demonstrate accountability to their citizens in terms of protecting human rights and fighting corruption.

Omara-Otunu said President Museveni should be removed from the list of invited African leaders because of his human rights record.

“I think this will betray the fundamental values of the United States to invite someone who has, throughout his presidency, exported conflict all over the Great Lakes Region of Africa and now has actually enacted this bill, which actually persecutes a particular group of people who may be engaged in an act not of their choice.

"By inviting him here it only sends a signal that whatever we say we don’t mean to say,” Omara-Otunu said.

President Museveni, who last month said he was against the anti-gay bill, said last week he would sign it because there is “no scientific proof yet that people are homosexuals by genetics.”

The Ugandan leader also said he was ready for “battle” with “outside groups” sympathetic to homosexuals.

Omara-Otunu said Museveni and parliament should not be denying other Ugandans their rights to do what they want to do, especially when they do not harm other people.

It’s estimated that 39 out of 54 African countries have passed, or are in the process enacting anti-gay laws and, in most countries, the popular sentiment is also not favorable.

Omara-Otunu said African leaders must take the lead in educating their citizens that people should not be penalized or made into criminals because of their sexual orientation.

“Most Africans do not like homosexual behavior in Africa. But, our leaders should lead by example, should tell people that in fact people should not be penalized merely because they happen to belong to a particular category of people,” he said.

He said, years ago people in Africa used to be against people with polio and leprosy. "But African leaders should have taken the lead in educating their citizens that prejudice of any kind is unacceptable,” Omara-Otunu said.

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