CREDIT: Ed Betz/ AP
Uganda’s foreign minister, who once derided homosexuality as something that the majority of Africans “abhor,” will soon take over as UN General Assembly President for one year. The anti-gay politician Sam Kutesa will “chair all meetings of the UN’s general assembly, and play host to world leaders” including President Barack Obama, according to the European news site Pink News. Some world leaders and human rights organizations have criticized Kutesa’s uncontested appointment saying that his support for his country’s anti-gay legislation runs counter to the United Nations charter, which promotes equality and justice.
The Guardian reported the African Union had elected Kutesa “by acclamation” since it was the African Union’s turn to choose a candidate and that he had been the only candidate. But there has been massive condemnation of his past record as his June 11th appointment date draws near. According to Black Star News, both New York Sens. Chuck Schumer (D) and Kristen Gillibrand (D) condemned Kutesa’s appointment. In mid-May, Schumer said that Kutesa’s appointment “is in contradiction to the UN charter and denies equality for members of the LGBT community.” In a statement to Black Star News a few days later, Gillibrand said, “The United Nations’ mission should remain focused on bringing the world community together rather than embracing divisiveness and intolerance. I urge the UN to raise Uganda’s human rights violations with Mr. Kutesa and stand with Uganda’s LGBT community facing injustice and persecution at home.”
In February, Kutesa threw his support behind Uganda President Yoweri Museveni for signing the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) that enforces a penalty of life in prison for couples in a committed relationship. The law also criminalizes people who perform same-sex marriage ceremonies and others who counsel gays or lesbians. At the time, Kutesa said that “the majority of Africans abhor” the practice of homosexuality and that “we shall not accept promotion and exhibition, because we think that is wrong for our young people and it offends our culture,” according to The Guardian.
Since the AHA passed in February, Sexual Minorities Uganda reported in May that there has been a ten-fold increase in violence against the LGBT community, about 162 reported incidents of violence. The report also found that “the passing of AHA has given permission to a culture of extreme and violent homophobia whereby both state and non-state actors are free to persecute Uganda’s LGBTI people with impunity.” The BBC reported in 2007 that there were about 500,000 LGBT people living in Uganda.
Although Kutesa’s appointment is largely figurative, Milton Allimadi, publisher and editor of the New York-based Black Star News wrote in April that this would cause “irreparable damage to the UN’s reputation.” Allimadi has started a petition asking Secretary of State John Kerry to deny Kutesa’s visa into the United States.