Concerned by what he calls the “barbarity” of Uganda‘s proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill (“kill the gays bill”), U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent a strong letter on Tuesday to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.  Wyden is Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee’s subcommittee on International Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness.

Wyden says that passage of the bill would violate the terms of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) through which Uganda is permitted by the Unites States to export its goods duty-free to the United States.  AGOA requires that beneficiaries not engage in “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”  Uganda has enjoyed the AGOA plumb since 2000.  Wyden said in the letter to Clinton and Kirk:

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. …Before us is a concrete opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to ending violence and discrimination against LGBT persons worldwide.

The senator’s letter also states that Uganda benefits from a trade relationship with the European Union similar to AGOA.  So far only Sweden has explicitly stated that continuation of aid will be tied to adherence to basic human rights, but one wonders what productive conversations Sen. Wyden has perhaps had with his EU counterparts to mention this.

Apparently Sen. Wyden is not satisfied with just writing a letter.  He says he intends “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.”  Uganda already outlaws homosexuality.  Hopefully the senator will consider such laws in conflict with the definition of respect he outlines in the new legislation.

And what of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni?  See below.And what of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni?  On Tuesday, as it happens, he was trying to distance himself from the heinous bill.

“I strongly advise you that we agree that the cabinet sit down with (the bill’s sponsor lawmaker David) Bahati and see how best to handle this issue,” Museveni said at the ruling National Resistance Movement party’s executive conference at State House in Entebbe.

“Because it is a foreign policy issue, it is not just our internal politics, and we must handle it in a way which does not compromise our principles but also takes into account our foreign policy interests,” he said, in a speech broadcast by the independent KFM radio station.

“So let’s be systematic among ourselves, and then we dialogue with these Europeans and the Americans and then we shall come up with a final position,” he added.

It would seem the economic pressure is working, even if the Ugandan government cares nothing for human rights.

Senator Wyden represents Oregon, where high school students from Southridge High School in the Portland suburb of Beaverton are sponsoring the Respect Humanity: Uganda March and Rally on January 23rd to protest of the gay genocide bill (info here and here).  These students have definitely tapped into a deep concern running through Oregon about the bill, because the list of confirmed rally speakers now includes State Rep. Tobias Read (D-Beaverton); Mayor of Beaverton Denny Doyle; Bill Bradbury, former Oregon Secretary Of State, current gubernatorial candidate; Jeana Frazzini, Executive Director of Basic Rights Oregon; Reverend Chuck Currie, a United Church of Christ minister based in Portland, OR; Kendall Clawson, Executive Director of the Q Center in Portland; Southridge HS students in the Leadership, Gay-Straight Alliance and Uganda Sister School Clubs.

HRC has set up a widget here for you to contact your members of Congress

The next step is a strong, unified effort by Congress to demand decisive action. Write Congress today and urge them to stop Uganda from passing a mass death sentence for its LGBT citizens.

Senator Wyden’s entire press release is below.

Press Release of Senator Wyden

Wyden Asks for Review of Ugandan Trade Status

Anti-Homosexuality Laws violate AGOA human rights requirements

Tuesday, January 12, 2010



Washington, D.C.
-. After reviewing legislation being considered by the Ugandan Parliament that would imprison citizens for being Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee’s  subcommittee on International Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness indicated that if Uganda passes such a law, it will be in violation of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which requires that beneficiaries not engage in “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”  AGOA grants Ugandan imports to the United States duty-free status, which Wyden says should be revoked if Uganda moves forward with the Anti-Homosexual law.

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, Wyden writes: “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.”

Uganda has been a beneficiary under AGOA since its passage in 2000. President Museveni was an early and active proponent of the legislation and Uganda has been among many of the sub-Saharan African countries that have benefited from the duty-free treatment that AGOA provides to over 90 percent of the products from sub-Saharan Africa.  Wyden has called on Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Kirk to determine if the  European Union will reconsider its trade preference program for Uganda in the event this legislation is passed. He 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 benefitting from any U.S. trade preference scheme.  The House Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate Committee on Finance are seriously considering proposals to reform U.S. trade preference programs and Wyden has been active in those discussions.

“Before us is a concrete opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to ending violence and discrimination against LGBT persons worldwide,” Wyden continued in the letter.

Text of the letter is available below.

###

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.

Sincerely,

Ron Wyden

United States Senator

Cross-posted at DailyKos.