With Uganda foreign minister set to lead United Nations General Assembly, human rights, HIV treatment advocates urge action

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Sign-on letter headed for Ban Ki-moon, UN missions

When Uganda President Yoweri Museveni signed country’s new Anti-Homosexuality Act into law in February, the United Nations along with world political, human rights, health and humanitarian leaders condemned the legislation which imposes life in prison for “aggravated homosexuality,” prohibits support or services offered to sexual minorities, and institutes mandatory HIV testing of anyone suspected of homosexuality. Uganda Foreign Minister, Sam Kutesa, in response, said that was “unfortunate,” before going on to defend the law, which, he said was intended to protect children from being “recruited” to an “abnormal practice.”

As Museveni’s advisor and spokesperson, this was not Kutesa’s first experience defending policies and practices that were widely reviled. In addition, reportedly one of the wealthiest officials in Uganda, he had long been linked to corruption. And yet, running unopposed to take Africa’s turn heading the United Nations General Assembly, he was headed for a chance to assume leadership of the United Nation’s main deliberative body. For these reasons, in April Black Star News publisher, Milton Allimadi, who was born in Uganda, sent an open letter to Secretary of State John Kerry saying “this must not be allowed to happen.” While the position is largely symbolic, the letter highlighted the embarrassments Kutesa, with his country’s and his own human rights and ethics record would bring to the United Nations and the world leaders who would appear before the body. By then the Anti-Homosexuality Law had led to a state-sponsored “celebration,” accompanied by widespread violence against people suspected of being gay, and to police action that had led to the closing of a U.S.-funded HIV treatment and prevention program in Uganda. The letter asked Secretary Kerry to prevent Kutesa from assuming the UN role by denying him a visa to travel to the United States. A petition asking the U.S. to deny or revoke Kutesa’s visa has since gathered more than 6700 signatures.

Now, with Kutesa set to assume his new role June 11, health and human rights advocates from around the world are circulating a letter addressed to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. “In the interests of promoting human rights- and evidence-based responses to HIV in Africa and challenging the rise of violent discrimination and hate on the continent,” the letter says, “it is vital that Sam Kutesa does not assume the Presidency of the 69th UN General Assembly.” Organizers are continuing to seek signatures for the letter, with plans to send it next week. They are requesting those interested in more information on the letter, or wishing to endorse it to write to: post2015mdg@icaso.org.

A Guardian article, UN backlash as Uganda’s ‘anti-gay minister heads for human rights top job, covers more of the reactions to the appointment.

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