US to impose visa restrictions on Ugandans supporting anti-gay law

US to impose visa restrictions on Ugandans supporting anti-gay law

Kampala, Uganda | By Michael Wandati | In the wake of the recent crackdown, over 300 Members of Parliament, along with their immediate family members, now face travel restrictions to the United States due to their support for the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which carries potential death sentences. This stringent measure, initiated as a response to their votes in favor of the controversial legislation, marks a significant development in the ongoing fallout.

The scope of the visa restrictions on Ugandans has expanded beyond the Anti-Homosexuality Act. Any politician, whether currently in the cabinet or from past administrations, found complicit in the disputed 2021 general elections faces inclusion in the list. These elections were marred by allegations of government security operatives engaging in the abduction, beating, and killing of individuals opposed to President Museveni’s candidature.

The first victim of this far-reaching measure was the Speaker of Parliament, Anita Annet Among, who saw the immediate cancellation of her US and UK visas when the Anti-Homosexuality Act was enacted in May 2023. Subsequently, the repercussions have spread to encompass more than 300 MPs and their immediate family members who supported the controversial legislation.

In a statement on December 4, 2023, Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, announced an expansion of the visa restriction policy. This extension now encompasses current or former Ugandan officials believed to be involved in undermining the democratic process or implementing policies aimed at suppressing marginalized or vulnerable populations.

“Today, I am announcing the expansion of the visa restriction policy to include current or former Ugandan officials or others who are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda or for policies or actions aimed at repressing members of marginalised or vulnerable populations. The groups include, but are not limited to, environmental activists, human rights defenders, journalists, LGBTQI+ persons, and civil society organisers. The immediate family members of such persons may also be subject to these restrictions,” Antony Blinken said.

The affected groups include, but are not limited to, environmental activists, human rights defenders, journalists, LGBTQI+ persons, and civil society organizers. Importantly, immediate family members of such individuals may also be subject to these restrictions.

This move by the United States represents the most sweeping visa restriction on Uganda’s government officials in recent memory. What sets it apart is the inclusion of immediate family members, marking the first time such a comprehensive clampdown on close relatives has been publicly disclosed. This inclusion is expected to evoke strong reactions from the politicians on the list.

When approached for comment, a US embassy official, preferring anonymity, remained guarded about the development but cryptically emphasized that “decisions in your parliament have consequences worldwide” before ending the conversation. This implicates all MPs who supported the Anti-Homosexuality Act, heightening the potential impact of the restrictions.

While several MPs declined to comment on the matter until officially notified, the addition of immediate family members to the list is likely to create a ripple effect, intensifying the implications of the visa restrictions on Ugandans supporting the anti-gay law.

Also Read: Cut aid if you so wish, Among tells donors over Anti-homosexuality Bill

U.S. President Joe Biden, the European Union, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres have expressed strong criticism towards Uganda for implementing one of the world’s most severe laws against homosexuality in May.

The newly enacted law introduces the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” in specific circumstances, although Uganda, unlike the United States, has not executed capital punishment for many years. President Yoweri Museveni, in the face of international pressure, has firmly stated his intention to resist such criticism, emphasizing that the law enjoys substantial domestic support.

This recent visa policy, while maintaining confidentiality regarding specific individuals, represents an extension of restrictions previously imposed on Uganda due to alleged irregularities in the 2021 election. This election secured another term for Mr Museveni, a former rebel who has held the presidential office since 1986. Notably, a decade earlier, Uganda reversed a law that mandated life imprisonment for homosexual relations, following a reduction in aid from international donors, including the United States.

In a separate announcement, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared that the United States would deny visas to individuals who undermined Zimbabwe’s election in August.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, leading a party in power for over four decades, was declared the winner of a new term in an election criticized by international observers for falling short of democratic standards.