US Policy on Uganda’s LGBT Rights Violations and the Hunt for Joseph Kony

Last night the Washington Post (Karen DeYoung) reported that President Obama has deployed at least four CV-22 Osprey aircraft and about 150 Air Force Special Forces to Uganda in support of the African Union Regional Task Force (AU-RTF) to combat the threat of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR), and South Sudan. DeYoung writes:

The White House began to notify Congress, under the War Powers Act, of the new deployments as they began Sunday night. [Amanda Dory deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs] and other officials emphasized that the Ospreys will be used for troop transport and that the rules of engagement for U.S. forces remain the same as for about 100 Special Operations troops that Obama first sent to help find Kony in October 2011.

Beth Van Schaack’s overnight post at Just Security primarily looked at the developments directly related to the hunt for Kony, while I address here the relationship between those military developments and the US response to Uganda’s human rights record. As the Washington Post reports, the administration also announced – for the first time – some initial actions it has taken in response to President Museveni’s signing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA), including:

  • the shift of $6.4 million in funding away from the Interreligious Council of Uganda, which has publicly advocated for the legislation
  • the redirection of $3 million in funding for tourism and biodiversity programs from the government to NGOs
  • the CDC’s suspension of a planned survey of key populations at risk for HIV, for fear that the AHA puts survey staff and respondents in danger
  • the Pentagon’s shift of regional military conferences that were to be held in Uganda to other locations

Grant Harris, senior African affairs director for the National Security Council, also indicated that the administration is “continuing to look at additional steps” the US could take, ostensibly as a part of its ongoing “internal review” of its relationship with Uganda in the wake of the anti-LGBT law.

The simultaneous announcements signal that it is not business-as-usual in the US’s historically close partnership with Uganda. In fact the announcement of the Ospreys – a move that has been in the works since last year – may have even encouraged the administration to speed up concrete actions to respond to the anti-LGBT law before the conclusion of the internal review. (Since 2012 calls for the US to shut off funds to the Inter-Religious Council have been largely ignored until now.)

As I argued last week, here at Just Security, weak follow-through in response to the Anti-Homosexuality Act risks green-lighting a creeping autocracy in Uganda, which far from furthering regional security interests, could in fact place them in extreme peril. As we wait for the internal review process to play out in its entirety, tying the announcement of the Ospreys to the ongoing review of relations with Uganda and initial steps redirecting aid – including the Pentagon’s symbolic gesture to move military conferences outside of Uganda – could indicate a shift is underway to integrate human rights and security policy in East Africa more effectively.

Harris tells the Post that, at least in this case, the two policies of combating groups like the LRA and protecting LGBT rights “are not mutually exclusive.” 

About the Author(s)

Wade McMullen

Staff Attorney for International Strategic Litigation Unit at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center) Follow him on Twitter at (@wademc).