Voice of America (Washington, DC)

20 June 2014

Uganda Accuses U.S. of Blackmail Over Anti-Gay Law

Photo: Peter Atchell Foundation
Protesters against Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill (file photo).

A spokesman for the Ugandan government says his country will not be blackmailed into changing its anti-homosexual law. Ofwono Opondo said Uganda is a sovereign country with an independent parliament and it should be allowed to make laws that are in the interest of its citizens.

This comes after the United States Thursday announced it would impose sanctions on Uganda for its anti-gay law.

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said Ugandan officials involved in human rights abuses, including against the gay community will be denied entry into the United States.

The US also cancels a scheduled military exercise with Uganda.

Signed by President Yoweri Museveni earlier this year, the anti-gay law says "repeat homosexuals" should be jailed for life. It also makes it illegal to promote homosexuality in Uganda.

Government spokesman Opondo said Uganda's constitution does not recognize homosexuality as a human rights issue.

"Uganda cannot compel the United States to give us their money. We shall make do with the resources that we have. Uganda is a sovereign country; our parliament is a sovereign parliament and we should be allowed to make laws and make decisions that we think are in our interest," he said.

Opondo said it was inappropriate for the US to first announce the sanctions in the media without first formally notifying the government of Uganda.

He said imposing sanctions on Uganda does not help protect what he calls the so-called human rights that the United States is seeking to protect.

"We have stated before that homosexuality is not a fundamental human rights in our own constitution," Opondo said.

Opondo said even if homosexuality were protected under Ugandan law and the government was violating such right, there are democratic and legitimate platforms through which the United States government can engage the Ugandan government.

"They can engage the government of Uganda through the diplomatic channel and through the parliament of Uganda by requesting why the law should be repealed; they can support groups to challenge this law through our judicial system. We have a judicial system that can handle any issue, but we reject the blackmail by the United States government," Opondo said.

He said if the US government believes in the rule of law, then it should be able to use the Ugandan parliamentary platform or its judicial system to challenge the anti-gay law.

Opondo said the anti-gay law is popular with Ugandans, and he challenged the US government to sponsor a referendum to test whether the US position is correct or not.

Uganda is one of about 50 African countries that are expected to attend the US-Africa summit to be hosted by President Barack Obama in August.

Some Africa analysts and human rights defenders say President Obama should exclude Uganda from the summit because of the country's anti-gay law.

Opondo said Uganda believes continued engagement is much better than "blackmail".

"We think there is no reason why the president of Uganda should not be able to attend. The United States government should use that summit to engage the president of Uganda through diplomatic channels rather than blackmail. Preventing President Museveni from attending the summit does not in any way cancel the validity of the law passed by the Ugandan parliament," he said.

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