March 03, 2010

State Dept. to Wyden: Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Proposal Violates Human Rights Standards

Proposal Clearly Jeopardizes Uganda's Trade Benefits

Washington, D.C. - In response to appeals to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk by U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the State Department said that the anti-homosexuality bill being considered by the Ugandan Parliament is "a serious affront to internationally accepted human rights standards." This finding would impact the African country's eligibility for preferential trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a unilateral program that eliminates tariffs on African goods destined for the U.S. Furthermore, in the letter to Wyden the Department of State announced the launching of an inquiry into the practices of all African nations with respect to rights afforded to LGBT populations and the establishment of a task force to respond to LBGT issues worldwide.

"The best trade policy is designed to improve human living standards, and AGOA does this," Wyden said. "The Ugandan attack on their homosexual population is an offense against human liberty and must be opposed at every opportunity. This trade law presents just such an opportunity."

Wyden, who is chair of the Senate Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness, sent a letter to Secretary Clinton and USTR Kirk on January 12, 2010 asking the State Department to review the Ugandan proposal and to communicate with President Yoweri Museveni that passage of the bill will affect Uganda's beneficiary status under AGOA. Wyden has repeatedly discussed this issue directly with Clinton and Kirk. Under AGOA, beneficiaries must meet certain eligibility criteria including not engaging in "gross violations of internationally recognized human rights." Wyden argued to the Department of State that the Uganda proposal violates internationally accepted human rights and the response from the Department of State affirms Wyden's understanding of the AGOA law, indicating that this will be central issue in the annual review of Uganda's AGOA status.

Copies of both the State Department letter and Wyden's original letter are available below and online:

State Department Letter-

Wyden's Original Letter-

United States Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520

February 22, 2010

Dear Senator Wyden:

Thank you for your January 12 letter concerning the draft "antihomosexuality" bill being considered in the Ugandan Parliament. We share your concern and have made our objections regarding the passage of such legislation known to Ugandan officials.

The State Department has identified this issue as a priority in our bilateral relationship. We have reached out at the highest levels; Secretary Clinton and Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson have discussed our concerns directly with President Museveni. In addition, our embassy in Kampala has been in close and regular contact with key political, media and civil society actors on the ground in Uganda, registering strong opposition to the bill and warning the Ugandans of potential consequences if it passes. The ambassador reiterated our concerns with President Museveni as recently as January 25, and Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero just visited Uganda on January 29. She met and offered support and encouragement to civil society groups opposed to the legislation and underscored our views to senior Ugandan officials. We are following this bill very closely.

As you point out, the Secretary's December 14 speech on the Human Rights Agenda for the 21st Century clearly states the United States' interest in protecting the rights of the LGBT community worldwide. We believe the Uganda bill constitutes a serious affront to internationally accepted human rights standards. The State Department is also evaluating attitudes and laws that marginalize and criminalize and penalize the LGBT community in Africa more broadly. We have asked all of our embassies in Africa to report on host country laws and pending legislation that criminalizes homosexuality. In addition, our Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor has established a task force on LGBT issues to strategize a United States Government response to LBGT issues worldwide.

The draft bill in Uganda has been sent to the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, and no hearing or further action related to the bill is scheduled. As has been widely reported in the press, President Museveni warned in a January 20 speech to his party's National Executive Council that the bill was having a negative impact on Uganda's foreign policy interests and urged caution. He has also established a committee within the Executive Branch of his government to review the bill and make recommendations. We consider his statements and recent actions as positive, albeit preliminary steps, and we will continue a regular and frank dialogue with Ugandans on this issue.

We review the full range of Congressionally-mandated criteria, including human rights, on an annual basis. As in the past, we will work closely with Congress and other stakeholders during the yearly review of Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) eligibility for each country, a review that includes the U.S. Trade Representative, State Department, National Security Council, Department of Treasury and the Department of Commerce. This interagency group reviews each country for continuation or termination of AGOA benefits and makes recommendations to the President, who makes the final decision on each country's AGOA eligibility.

We hope this information is helpful in addressing your concerns. Please feel free to contact us further on this or any matter of concern to you.


Richard R. Verma
Assistant Secretary
Legislative Affairs

January 12, 2010

The Honorable Ron Kirk
United States Trade Representative
600 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20508

The Honorable Hillary Clinton
U.S. Secretary of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Ambassador Kirk and Secretary Clinton:

I write today out of grave concern about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill being considered by Ugandan Parliament. The proposed legislation would incarcerate or sentence to death lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Ugandans for engaging in private sexual acts, as well as those citizens who provide emotional, financial, or medical assistance for LGBT Ugandans. There are few words that could adequately express the barbarity of the Ugandan proposal. Secretary Clinton, you made it clear in your December 14th, 2009, speech at Georgetown University on the Human Rights Agenda for the 21st Century, that "we think it's important for the United States to stand against" violence and discrimination against LGBT persons. You identified the persecution of LGBT persons around the world as "a new frontier in the minds of many people about how we protect the LGBT community." Before us is a concrete opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to ending violence and discrimination against LGBT persons worldwide.

As you know, Uganda is a beneficiary of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which was signed in to law in 2000. AGOA provides duty-free treatment to imports originating from beneficiary African countries. Beneficiaries of AGOA must meet certain eligibility criteria, one of which is to not engage in "gross violations of internationally recognized human rights," and the jurisprudence in the area of international human rights supports respect of sexual orientation and gender identity as human rights. 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. Additionally, my understanding is that Uganda benefits from a regime similar to AGOA that is implemented by the European Union (EU): the Everything But Arms (EBA) agreement. I ask that the EU be consulted to determine whether Uganda also risks its EBA benefits should it enact the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

I intend to sponsor legislation to amend U.S. trade preference programs, including AGOA, to make clear that failure to appropriately respect sexual orientation and gender identity as human rights shall preclude a country from benefitting from any U.S. trade preference scheme. As the chairman of the International Trade Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Finance, I look forward to working with you on this legislative initiative.


Ron Wyden
United States Senator