Sen. Wyden Ratchets Up Pressure on Uganda

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Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today went further than other US government officials have so far in threatening specific repercussions if Uganda does not abandon its draconian anti-gay legislation.

At issue is the Anti-Homosexuality Bill set for consideration by the Ugandan Parliament that would impose life imprisonment or a death sentence for same-gender consensual sex and threatens prison time for individuals who do not report suspected homosexuals to the police. The proposed law has sparked international condemnation, and there is growing pressure from world leaders on Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to stop the bill.

HIV experts are particularly concerned that the legislation would deal a major blow to Uganda’s successful AIDS treatment efforts, deterring an already vulnerable at-risk population from seeking HIV testing and treatment services out of fear of severe punishment and intimidating the health care workers who serve these populations.

So far, the expressions of dismay and threats of diplomatic fall-out from Western leaders have not seemed to seriously sidetrack the bill. But Wyden today highlighted a new US pressure point in the increasingly urgent campaign to nix the legislation.

In this news release, Wyden says said the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill would be a violation of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which gives preferential duty-free status to imports from Uganda and some other African nations. One of the conditions of the law is that beneficiaries do not engage in “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights,” Wyden notes in the letter he sent today to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Trade Representative Ron Kirk on the matter.

“There are few words that could adequately express the barbarity of the Ugandan proposal,” Wyden writes in his letter. “I strongly urge you to communicate immediately to the Ugandan government, and President Yoweri Museveni directly, that Uganda’s beneficiary status under AGOA will be revoked should the proposed legislation be enacted. President Museveni was an early and active proponent of AGOA and knows first-hand the significance of the legislation and the seriousness that Congress employed in shaping it. The significance of Uganda losing its AGOA beneficiary status will not be lost on President Museveni and other leaders in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Wyden also asks Clinton and Kirk to find out whether a similar trade benefit Uganda enjoys with the European Union could be revoked if the law is enacted.

Here’s the full text of the letter: Wyden Letter to USTR Re Uganda and AGOA Jan 2010

HIV physicians and scientists are increasingly alarmed and engaged around this issue, as evidenced by this letter from the South African HIV Clinicians Society. Letter from SA HIV Clinicians Society to Uganda Parliament 08 01 10 

Stay tuned for developments from their US-based counterparts.

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