Three cheers for Rep. Tammy Baldwin — the Congresswoman will be chairing a Congressional Human Rights Commission hearing next week on Uganda’s proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which would make homosexuality a crime punishable by death. This is a follow-up to Baldwin’s October 2009 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in which she urged the U.S. to "use every means possible to convey to Ugandan leaders that this bill is appalling, reckless, and should be withdrawn immediately."
POLICY UPDATE: Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni is now distancing himself from the discriminatory measure, which was introduced in the Ugandan Parliament in October 2009. (For more background, check out this post on the Advocates for Youth blog, as well as this backgrounder by Amplify contributor dandaman6007.)
BBC News reports that Museveni has "admitted coming under international pressure." The president has received phone calls from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, all urging him to help stop the legislation. (To quote from Museveni’s unfiltered remarks: "Ms. Clinton rang me. What was she talking about? Gays.")
This development represents a victory for human rights defenders across the world — but it’s only an intermediate victory. To explain, we might scrutinize the current state of affairs in terms of the good, the bad, and the downright ugly:
The Good: Grassroots pressure is working. The news media’s latest round of Uganda updates focuses on the exertion of high-level power – i.e., the fact that high-level diplomats are now leaning on the Ugandan government — but the real story here is the work of ordinary people of conscience across the globe. Here in the U.S., your countless protests and rallies, petitions, and call-ins against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill have created a swell of political will, which in turn has moved Congress and our foreign policy establishment to action. Secretary Clinton, for instance, condemned the Uganda bill as an “instrument of oppression” in a forthright speech on global human rights last month.
The Bad: It’s not over till it’s over. Be wary of this classic and consequential PR trick that human rights violators use time and time again (because it often works): verbally signal reform in the press and in front of the watchdogs; lay low for a little bit; and then, when the climate of protest has quieted down, go back to your old habits of legislating impunity and discrimination.
By all accounts, the Ugandan Parliament and President Museveni are feeling the heat. However, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill hasn’t been formally withdrawn or voted down yet. Until this measure is dead ten times over, our continued pressure is absolutely necessary.
The Ugly: We don’t know for sure what will happen to this bill over the next few months, but we do know this: Gay sex is already punishable by up to 14 years in jail in Uganda.
Accordingly, we should ask ourselves: What will we do to end such state-perpetrated homophobia in Uganda? And what will we do to fight for full LGBTQ rights in Uganda, as well as in the dozens of other countries that criminalize "homosexual acts"?
Among other opportunities, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon has opened one door for us. From a statement released earlier this week:
"[Senator Wyden] intends to sponsor legislation to amend U.S. trade laws to preclude countries that fail to adequately respect sexual orientation and gender identity as human rights from benefiting from any U.S. trade preference scheme."
Putting it in a less technical way, here’s what Senator Wyden’s forthcoming bill would do: If your government continues to outlaw homosexuality, the U.S. will cancel its special bilateral trade arrangements with your government. In Uganda’s case, this means that it would no longer be able to enjoy its valuable duty-free imports into the United States.
Such targeted economic pressure can be very powerful. On its part, Wyden’s measure has definite family resemblances to the divestment levers that helped end apartheid in South Africa.
Interested to hear what you think in the comments. On an on-the-ground level, what more can we do to speak out on behalf of Uganda’s LGBTQ community and targeted LGBTQ communities across the world?