American Jewish World Service Applauds Obama Administration Actions Supporting Rights of LGBT Ugandans

Leading Jewish Human Rights Group Urges Congress to Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. — American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the leading Jewish international development and human rights organization, today applauds recent actions by the Obama administration in response to the passage and implementation of the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) by the government of Uganda. These important actions include restricting visas and redirecting some foreign aid, and they underscore the laudable commitment of the U.S. government to human rights worldwide, including those of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

“With the implementation of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, the Ugandan government violated the rights of its LGBT community and of all of its citizens by unconscionably limiting freedom of expression and association of any Ugandans who support the rights and dignity of LGBT people,” said Ruth Messinger, president of AJWS. “As Jews, we understand all too well the reality of living in countries in which governments sanction hate against minorities and trample their rights. We applaud the Obama administration for clearly signaling that such actions by the Ugandan government have consequences and that these actions signal the end of business as usual.”

Specifically, the Obama administration announced it will restrict entry into the United States for Ugandan individuals involved in human rights abuses and/or public corruption; discontinue a $2.4 million program in support of the Uganda Police Force over concerns about police abuses in the wake of the passage of the AHA; redirect financial support for the Ministry of Health to health-related non-governmental organizations in Uganda; relocate plans for a National Public Health Institute and a National Institutes of Health genomics meeting to other African countries; and cancel the scheduled Department of Defense’s AFRICOM Africa Partnership Flight exercise.

The sanctions on visas are particularly noteworthy in that they target specific individuals who have violated the rights of LGBT people. The Anti-Homosexuality Act and other pieces of legislation over the past few years, such as the anti-HIV law, the anti-pornography law and the NGO Registration Bill, all reflect attempts by the Ugandan government to shut down civil society and curtail the individual rights and freedoms of Ugandan citizens. This sanction will also address a general decline in human rights in the Ugandan context, as it will also apply to individuals found guilty of general violations or abuses of human rights beyond violations of the rights of LGBT people.

“Unfortunately, the situation in Uganda is horrific, but it is not the only country in the world to violate the dignity and rights of LGBT people,” said Messinger. “The steps announced by the administration in relation to the rights of LGBT people in Uganda set an important precedent for future diplomatic response to other nations using state power to persecute LGBT individuals. In order to be able to respond rapidly to these violations of human rights, we urge the swift appointment of a Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT people who can coordinate U.S. efforts worldwide on this issue.”

In addition to the White House announcement this week, the U.S. Congress has also taken up the issue of global LGBT rights, with legislation pending in both the Senate and House of Representatives. The International Human Rights Defense Act (IHRDA), introduced by Senator Edward Markey (D-MA), would direct the U.S. Department of State to make protecting the rights of LGBT people worldwide a foreign policy priority through the creation of a cross-agency strategy to prevent and respond to violence and discrimination against LGBT people globally and the appointment of a Special Envoy on the Human Rights of LGBT People. A second bill, the Global Equality Act, was introduced by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) in the House this week and focuses on visa sanctions for individuals responsible for committing or inciting gross violations of LGBT people’s internationally recognized human rights.

AJWS is the fourth largest U.S.-based funder of LGBT rights worldwide. Since 2005, AJWS has invested nearly $9.5 million in global LGBT rights. In 2013 alone, AJWS provided $2.97 million to support the critical work of 47 organizations promoting the rights of LGBT people in 14 countries. With this support, AJWS’s grantees are coming out, speaking out, collaborating and pursuing recognition, inclusion, security and equality. AJWS also mobilizes supporters in the U.S. to advocate for laws and policies that advance the rights of LGBT people in the developing world.

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