U.S. threatening sanctions, visa restrictions against Uganda over anti-LGBTQ law

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WASHINGTON — A harsh new anti-LGBTQ law -- one of the most restrictive in the world -- in Uganda is drawing global condemnation and an online debate among a couple of high-profile American conservatives. Allies of the East African nation, including the U.S., are threatening sanctions, and aid is now in jeopardy.

The law's punishments for gay sex include the death penalty and lifetime prison sentences.

"Uganda’s shameful anti-LGBTQ law is unjust & simply cruel,'' Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., said in a Tuesday tweet. ''Regardless of where you live, every person deserves the freedom to live their true authentic self, free from discrimination. I stand with Uganda’s LGBTQ+ community & call for an immediate repeal."

FILE - The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema speaks during their picket against Uganda's anti-homosexuality bill at the Ugandan High Commission in Pretoria, South Africa on April 4, 2023. Uganda's president Yoweri Museveni has signed into law tough new anti-gay legislation supported by many in the country but widely condemned by rights activists and others abroad, it was announced Monday, May 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe, File) ORG XMIT: NAI104

Democratic lawmaker Colin Allred of Texas said the legislation is "horrifying and should be condemned by the global community," and Rep. Robert Garcia, a Democrat from California, said the law threatens the death penalty to "individuals being true to their identity and loving who they choose."

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk told Reuters on Tuesday that he hopes Uganda's judiciary reviews the law, which he said violates the country's constitution and international human rights law. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the law "appalling and abhorrent."

Even conservative, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who has opposed explicit protections for same-sex marriage in the U.S., weighed in on the law. "Any law criminalizing homosexuality or imposing the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” is grotesque & an abomination," he said in a tweet. "ALL civilized nations should join together in condemning this human rights abuse."

His comments sparked an online debate in the conservative community at a time when its activists have targeting businesses that have openly supported the LGBTQ community.

U.S. aid to Uganda in jeopardy

President Joe Biden in a lengthy statement on Monday called for the Uganda law's repeal, saying it "is a tragic violation of universal human rights" that jeopardizes the nation's economic prospects.

"Innocent Ugandans now fear going to hospitals, clinics, or other establishments to receive life-saving medical care lest they be targeted by hateful reprisals. Some have been evicted from their homes or fired from their jobs," Biden said. "And the prospect of graver threats—including lengthy prison sentences, violence, abuse—threatens any number of Ugandans who want nothing more than to live their lives in safety and freedom."

'Horrific.' Biden, Cruz slam anti-LGBTQ law in Uganda that includes death penalty

The White House said last year, when the bill passed Uganda's parliament, that it had "grave concerns" about the law "increasing violence targeting LGBTQI+ persons" and could deter tourism to and investment in the country.

"The bill is one of the most extreme anti-LGBTQI+ laws in the world," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at the time.

In its statement on Monday after the law was enacted, the White House stressed that the U.S. invests nearly $1 billion annually in Uganda. The Biden administration has previously indicated that those investments could be at risk if the anti-gay bill became law.

U.S. considering sanctions, visa restrictions

Biden said Monday that the law is part of an "alarming trend of human rights abuses and corruption in Uganda," and it poses a threat to everyone in Uganda, including tourists and U.S. government personnel.

The president said he was directing his National Security Council "to evaluate the implications of this law on all aspects of U.S. engagement with Uganda," including AIDS relief and other assistance.

"And we are considering additional steps, including the application of sanctions and restriction of entry into the United States against anyone involved in serious human rights abuses or corruption," Biden said.

Biden's coordinator for strategic communications on the National Security Council John Kirby said earlier this year, after a version of the bill passed Uganda's parliament, that the U.S. would be watching the legislation very closely, but it had not made any decisions about how it might respond.

Asked about potential sanctions on Uganda, Kirby told reporters in March, "And we would have to take a look at whether or not there might be repercussions that we would have to take, perhaps in an economic way, should this law actually get passed — enacted."

In the meantime, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday evening that the Biden administration would "support the rights of LGBTQI+ individuals in Uganda" and "promote accountability for Ugandan officials and other individuals responsible for, or complicit in, abusing their human rights," including through the potential use of visa restrictions.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: U.S. threatening sanctions against Uganda over anti-LGBTQ law