U.S. envoy meets Ugandan leaders over anti-gay bill

According to the US State Department, the leading U.S. diplomat in Africa, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, met with high-profile leaders in Uganda “over the weekend” and raised concerns about the anti-gay bill, which among other things would punish homosexual acts with life in prison.

During a daily briefing on Monday, Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokesperson, said, “As we have regularly said, we call on the parliament of Uganda to look very carefully at this because Uganda’s own Human Rights Council has made clear that if this were to pass, it would put the country out of compliance with its own international human rights obligations. And so, Assistant Secretary Carson had a chance to make that point again and our strong opposition to this, to the president, to the parliament and to key decision makers in Uganda.”

Nuland also affirmed media reports from last week that the legislation has passed out of the Legal & Parliamentary Affairs Committee, saying, “Our understanding is that a version of the bill has now passed the committee in Uganda.”

It wouldn’t be the first time Carson has raised concerns about the bill with Uganda President Yoweri Museveni. In 2009 Carson met with Museveni about the bill and later had conversations about it on the phone. On both occasions, the State Department said Museveni had pledged to block the bill from becoming law and would veto it if it came to his desk.

Nuland later said Carson met with Uganda Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, who’s reportedly been a chief advocate of the anti-gay bill, although it’s unclear whether the meeting was just with her or a larger group of Ugandan leaders.

Homosexual acts are already illegal in Uganda, but the proposed bill would expand existing law to institute life imprisonment for those found guilty of homosexuality in addition to prohibiting public support for LGBT rights. According to Sexual Minorities Uganda, parents and teachers would be fined if they don’t report gay children and students and landlords who rent to gay people would be punished with jail time.

Nuland said, “I think there is a very intense conversation going on inside Uganda about the threat to cut foreign aid to Uganda, and the far better course of action would be for the bill not to pass. We’re at a relatively preliminary stage here where you’ve had one committee pass this. Our first focus at the moment is on getting reconsideration of this.”

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