In a Presidential memorandum from December 6, 2011, President Obama directed the federal government to ensure that United States diplomacy and foreign aid promote and protect the human rights of the LGBT community abroad. Earlier this month the president made good on that promise by doling out a number of funding cuts to Uganda after the recent passage of their Anti-Homosexuality Act which criminalizes homosexuality.

Homosexuality has been a crime in Uganda since British rule, but this act criminalizes lesbianism for the first time. In the proposal stages the act originally contained a death penalty clause, but after international outcry, that provision was changed to life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality.” The law also targets those who aid members of the gay community, effectively ensnaring civil rights groups.

In response to the law the U.S. government has restricted entry into the U.S. by those it has implicated in the passage and enforcement of the law. The U.S. government has also ended its support of Uganda’s community policing program, fearing that it could potentially be utilized as an enforcement mechanism for anti-homosexuality sentiments in Uganda. That program included $2.4 million in aid. Additionally, funds intended for the Ministry of Health in Uganda have been shifted to NGOs within the country. This coincides with the movement of a planned National Public Health Institute to another African country along with the $3 million in funding which the U.S. would have provided. The Department of Defense also cancelled a joint military aviation exercise with Ugandan forces and the World Bank delayed a $90 million loan to Uganda directed toward improving its health services. Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands have joined the U.S. in withholding significant aid to Uganda.

The international response by the western world to the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act has been decisive and swift. However, the Ugandan government, led by President Yoweri Museveni, remains resolute in its anti-gay position. Despite this, Uganda remains in a desperate state of need.

In the 2013 United Nations Development Programme Development Index, Uganda ranked 161 out of 186 countries. As of 2009, 24.5 percent of Uganda’s population was impoverished, down from a 31.1 percent rate in 2005 according to the World Bank. These improvements are significant but they run the risk of faltering without continued international support.

In a statement released in February shortly after the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, President Obama called it “a step backward for all Ugandans.” With the imminent fallout from reduced foreign aid quickly approaching, this statement becomes clearer and clearer every day.

— Taylor Dow

Sources: 1, 2, BBC, Reuters, World Bank, CNN
Photo: BBC


LGBT rights seem to have a place in the politics of almost every nation in the world these days. The topic is one of the most polarizing as well. Some countries are spearheading the movement with full inclusiveness for LGBT citizens. Others, like the United States, seem to be floating somewhere in the middle. And then there are the countries pushing hard in the opposite direction, such as Russia.

However, when it comes to anti-gay legislation, the government of Uganda is in a league of its own. In February of this year, lawmakers in Uganda essentially made it illegal to be gay by passing the Anti-Homosexuality Act. The bill makes the promotion of homosexuality, in every general sense, punishable. The price to pay for the ultimate offense – actually being gay – is a life sentence.

The legislation also extends for interacting with LGBT people. Failure to report homosexual suspicion to the government will earn time behind bars. Even knowingly housing or renting an apartment to a gay person could warrant up to five years in prison.

In recent history, societies across the world have met very significant ethical milestones that make Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act seem absurd. Doesn’t the Ugandan government, or any government for that matter, have more pressing issues than bedroom behavior that need attention? Would the Ugandan government actually spend the time and energy to enforce the law?

Apparently so.

The Refugee Law Project, a Uganda-based nongovernmental organization, recently came under investigation by the government over allegations of “promoting homosexuality and lesbianism.” Whether or not the NGO actually violated the Anti-Homosexuality Act is still being disputed as the investigation takes place.

The RLP operates at the School of Law of Makerere University in Uganda. Its aim is to enhance the mental health and psychosocial well-being of refugees and displaced people. The organization also explicitly states its intention to enforce sexuality and gender rights for those in need, which may have been a cause for government scrutiny.

The Refugee Law Project has taken to social media to inform the public that its operations are still running despite some interference. The organization has halted its one-on-one work with refugees at the moment, however. Some say that this inherently threatens the Refugee Law Project’s ability to accomplish its mission.

The standing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda is debated on ethical grounds for human rights, but it has also been criticized as a scapegoat tool to target groups and individuals critical of President Yoweri Museveni’s regime. Regardless, the legislation takes significant time and energy to enact and reinforce – time and energy that could be better spent helping groups in need rather than ostracizing people further.

 Edward Heinrich

Sources: Advocate, BBC, Refugee Law Project
Photo: Al Jazeera American