US to consider visa restrictions over Uganda anti-gay law

Secretary of State Antony Blinken says legislation, which includes the death penalty for some offences, is deeply troubling.

Ugandan human rights lawyers lead a petition against the anti-gay law. They are gathered around a computer.
Ugandan human rights lawyers have filed a legal challenge against the law [Abubaker Lubowa/Reuters]

Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the United States may consider restricting visas for some Ugandan officials after the country adopted one of the world’s toughest anti-LGBTQ laws.

Blinken said the US was “deeply troubled” by Uganda’s  Anti-Homosexuality Act, which was signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni on Monday.

While same-sex relations were already illegal in Uganda, the new law imposes capital punishment for some behaviours including “aggravated homosexuality”, and 20 years in prison for “promoting” homosexuality. Museveni had previously urged lawmakers to delete the provision on “aggravated homosexuality”.

US President Joe Biden quickly condemned the law as “a tragic violation of universal human rights” and threatened to cut aid and investment to the East African country.

He urged Uganda to repeal the measure.

In a statement later on Monday, Blinken said the US would “consider deploying existing visa restrictions tools against Ugandan officials and other individuals for abuse of universal human rights, including the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons.”

State department guidance for US citizens and businesses on travel to Uganda was also being updated, while Washington would also help “develop mechanisms to support the rights of LGBTQI+ individuals in Uganda and to promote accountability for Ugandan officials and other individuals responsible for, or complicit in, abusing their human rights”, he added.

A rights group announced later Monday that it had filed a legal challenge with Uganda’s High Court, arguing that the legislation was “blatantly unconstitutional”.

“By criminalising what we call consensual same-sex activity among adults, it goes against key provisions of the constitution including rights on equality and non-discrimination,” said Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum.

The European Union, United Kingdom, UNAIDS, the Global Fund, human rights groups and LGBTQ organisations also expressed their shock at the adoption of the law.

UNAIDS noted that Uganda and President Museveni had been at the forefront of campaigns to end AIDS based on the principle of access to healthcare for all.

The new law had put that response in “grave jeopardy”, UNAIDS said in a joint statement with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (the Global Fund), and the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

“Trust, confidentiality, and stigma-free engagement are essential for anyone seeking healthcare,” the statement said. “LGBTQI+ people in Uganda increasingly fear for their safety and security, and increasing numbers of people are being discouraged from seeking vital health services for fear of attack, punishment and further marginalisation.”

A less restrictive 2014 anti-LGBTQ law was struck down by a domestic court on procedural grounds, after Western governments had initially suspended some aid, imposed visa restrictions and limited security cooperation.

Uganda receives billions of dollars in foreign aid each year and could now face another round of sanctions.

“Uganda’s failure to safeguard the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons is part of a broader degradation of human rights protections that puts Ugandan citizens at risk and damages the country’s reputation as a destination for investment, development, tourism and refugees,” Blinken said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies