The U.S. State Department's top Africa diplomat says approval by Uganda's parliament of a bill criminalizing homosexual activity would harm that country's world image and undercut the fight against HIV/AIDS. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson discussed the issue Friday with leaders of U.S. gay and lesbian groups concerned about the legislation pending in Kampala.
The Obama administration is stepping up its public efforts against what it describes as draconian legislation pending in the Ugandan parliament that would criminalize homosexual acts and make them, in some instances, punishable by death.
Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson spoke to reporters after a meeting with about 25 leaders of U.S. gay and lesbian groups concerned about the legislation being considered by Ugandan legislators since October, and which has heavy support from conservative Muslim and Christian lawmakers there.
Carson said he has spoken directly with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni twice about the pending bill, most recently early this month when the Ugandan leader transited the United States after attending the Commonwealth Summit in Trinidad and Tobago.
The Assistant Secretary said he told Mr. Museveni, who has been prominent among African leaders in the battle against HIV/AIDS, that such legislation would undercut progress against that epidemic and undermine Uganda's global image. "We believe that this legislation is a violation of human rights, that it will undermine the fight against HIV/AIDS in Uganda, that it will stigmatize a community, and that ultimately it will harm and damage Uganda's human rights image and record. We believe this legislation is inappropriate, should be withdrawn and is not the kind of legislation that we wish to see in Uganda and for that matter any other place," he said.
Carson said President Museveni, in contacts with U.S. officials, has distanced himself and his party from the legislation, and said he is concerned about its contents and implications.
He noted that Mr. Museveni is empowered to veto legislation from parliament and said the United States is urging him to let his principles guide him and do everything he can to see it that it does not become law.
Carson also said the United States has not threatened Uganda with aid cuts or other punitive steps despite its concern about the issue. "We're not making any threats at this point. We think that it is in Uganda's interest to do the right thing on this legislation. President Museveni and his foreign minister know our concerns about it. We hope that they will exercise leadership in insuring that this legislation is not passed," he said.
The pending legislation in Uganda would toughen an existing and largely un-enforced law barring sex between people of the same gender. Homosexual sex with minors, or while infected with HIV, would draw the death penalty.
Supporters of the measure in Uganda have dismissed outside criticism as a new form of colonialism.
Raising its profile on the issue, the White House issued a statement opposing the draft law last week and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized it in a Washington speech on administration human rights policy on Monday.