Saturday, December 19, 2009

State Dept's Uganda Briefing
With Gay Inc/AIDS Inc

(Johnnie Carson, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. Photo credit: Center for American Progress.)

The Voice of America posted a story earlier today about a briefing yesterday held by the State Department over the situation in Uganda, and reported that 25 groups were present. I searched the sites of likely orgs to have been there - IGLHRC, HRW's gay section, Global Equality - looking for reports on the meeting. Surely if such a high-level meeting were to take place, our orgs would keep the at-large community informed of what happened, right?

The AFP and Reuters news wires have put out stories on the meeting, but not a single gay or AIDS leader is quoted, and no orgs are named in either wire story.

I don't want to read too much into the fact that the meeting was held on Friday, and less likely to attract widespread media attention or wire story pickup, and I'm certainly pleased the briefing took place, but it does strike me as odd that it was on a Friday, just like the White House last Friday finally issued a condemnation against Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Can the Obama administration find a way to take more action on the plight of gay Ugandans earlier in the week, please?

And what about the silence so far from the orgs at the meeting? Who is served by such silence? Sure would be great to learn from the attendees what they have to say about the sit-down.

Frankly, if dozens of our leaders can attend the briefing, no matter the day, time or weather outside, a communique should be forthcoming within hours. It's called engagement, and all of us who are concerned about gay Ugandans, and the Ugandan gays, should have a public report on what transpired from more than just the State Department's envoy.

Frankly, I fear the administration requested a blackout from the attendees, and that they agreed to it. What plausible reason could there be for absolutely no word from the NGOs?

Indulge me if I stake out the radical position here, and say as a gay American, I want the Obama administration to continue public diplomacy on behalf of gay people beyond our borders, and timely engagement and communication from Gay Inc and AIDS Inc when they are invited to the State Department for high-level discussions.

BTW, Johnnie Carson, the department's Ambassador for African Affairs, has led a long and distinguished diplomatic career. Notable tidbit on his political leanings: there is only one donation listed from him with the FEC. In 2004, Carson donated $250 to Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change, which was opposed to Dubya's reelection and favored John Kerry.

I found this report on the LifeAfterJerusalem blog, which is maintained by an anonymous gay foreign service officer, and gives terrific info on some aspects of the briefing:

Approximately 40 people representing NGOs such as Council of Global Equality, IGLHRC, Africa Faith and Justice network, Human Rights First, Global Forum, AMFAR, and the Anti-Defamation League attended a briefing yesterday by Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson on the anti-homosexuality law being considered by the Ugandan legislature.

A/S Carson called the legislation in Uganda “draconian” and described his discussions on at least two separate occasions with Ugandan President Museveni and high ranking officials including the Foreign Minister and Defense Minister about this legislation. A/S Carson said, “The U.S. condemns in the strongest terms any violations of human rights and we see the criminalization of homosexuality as a violation of these basic human rights.”

He said this legislation was not mentioned as a “sidebar issue” in his meetings but as an issue of concern on the level of Sudan and other major AF issues. In at least one instance, he sought out the Museveni solely to discuss this legislation with him. Museveni gave him assurances he would oppose the legislation.

Kerry Johnson from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Council expressed concern about similar legislation in other African countries as a fallout from the Ugandan legislation, including legislation passed quickly in Burundi and legislation being discussed in Rwanda and Kenya. A/S Carson said he had already discussed this with a high ranking person in Rwanda and asked that he convey his and Secretary Clinton’s concerns to Rwandan President Kagame.

He said the Department is not yet considering consequences if the law is passed, preferring to focus on keeping it from being passed. He did say that a cable or email will be sent to all Ambassadors determining if such laws exist or are being considered in their countries, and that we would address those countries where these laws exist. [...]

“We will not have a double standard of being opposed to this legislation in Uganda and silent about it somewhere else, ” A/S Carson said.

Many thanks from me to the publisher of the LifeAfterJerusalem for the very informative memo. That is exactly the sort of memo I hope the NGOs soon publish on their web sites. There simply cannot be too much info on the web about U.S. efforts to protect the human rights of gay Ugandans.

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