Dear Secretary John Kerry,
Since I first wrote my Open Letter to you on April 30, a total of 6,992 people have now signed the Petition on Change.org calling on you to revoke the U.S. visa of Uganda's foreign affairs minister Mr. Sam Kutesa to prevent him from becoming the next President of the United Nations General Assembly based here in New York.
It would be a great travesty and shame to the reputation of the UN, exposing the global body to more public ridicule, if Mr. Kutesa is elected to the Presidency on June 11 when the 193 member nations vote.
Mr. Kutesa is unsuitable for the UN post because he represents a militaristic regime led by Gen. Yoweri Museveni who seized power 28 years ago and whose actions and policies are antithetical to all that the United Nations is supposed to embody and represent. Gen. Museveni's army, with Mr. Kutesa as foreign minister, has invaded several neighboring countries, causing much death and destruction in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The U.S. and much of the world would also lose a great opportunity to rebuke Mr. Kutesa and his boss Gen. Museveni for the odious anti-Gay law the latter signed on Feb. 24, 2014 after it was passed by Parliament on December 20, 2013.
Already The Guardian (U.K) newspaper reports that there have been 162 attacks on Uganda's LGBT community since the law was passed by Parliament in December compared to a total of 8 in the previous 11-months period dating to January 2013. This represents a more than 20-fold increase in such attacks.
The Guardian story, on May 11, 2014, is based on a report and survey compiled by Sexual Minorities Uganda, which "detailed an attempted lynching, mob violence, homes burned down, blackmail, lost jobs, arrests, evictions and suicides."
According to The Guardian story:
In four cases, men accused of being gay were reported to have been kidnapped and tortured. There were 29 incidents where the media outed individuals who were later subjected to further persecution. A 17-year-old boy killed himself by swallowing rat poison and pills on 3 April because he felt his life had no further value, according to the survey.
The law, "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," according to The Guardian's article based on the Sexual Minorities' report.
Mr. Secretary, as you know, the law also calls for life-prison terms for Gays; previously while being debated in Uganda's Parliament it had called for death by hanging.
Surely appeals for you to take action and block Mr. Kutesa, a top cabinet member of Gen. Museveni's regime, and his confidante, will not fall on deaf ears, Mr. Secretary?
To their credit, Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, separately, sent me statements raising strong objections to Mr. Kutesa's candidacy. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has also issued a statement of objection.
Senator Schumer says:
I am deeply concerned by the homophobic legislation recently passed by the Ugandan parliament and signed into law by its president. The United Nations charter clearly promotes respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion -- and Uganda, right now, clearly does not. That's why the UN should review Mr. Kutesa's participation in, and views on, such legislation. As a member of Ugandan President Museveni's cabinet, Mr. Kutesa's views must be known and explained, as this law is in contradiction to the UN charter and denies equality for members of the LGBT community.
Senator Gillibrand says:
It would be disturbing to see the foreign minister of a country that passed an unjust, harsh and discriminatory law based on sexual orientation preside over the UN General Assembly. 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.
Comptroller Stringer says, "As New Yorkers we live by the enduring words of our founding fathers that all men are created equal," Stringer, who is the City's chief fiscal and auditing officer, said in a statement to The Black Star News. "We also share in the vision of the United Nations to promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all regardless of race, sex, language or religion. I urge the United Nations to remain true to its mission of inclusiveness and respect for all for any candidate pursuing a position of leadership at the UN."
I hope more members of Congress and other elected officials take a strong stand and let Mr. Kutesa know that as a top representative of a regime that embraces homophobia in order to incite attacks against its own citizens doesn't deserve to be rewarded with the Presidency of the General Assembly.
Imagine when Mr. Kutesa sits behind the podium during the annual General Assembly in September and world leaders, including President Obama, have to turn around and thank him before delivering his or her speech.
I hope you are as troubled as I am by such a spectacle, Mr. Secretary.
Mr. Secretary in my first letter I listed several other factors which should disqualify Mr. Kutesa and any representative of the Ugandan regime from Presidency of the General Assembly.
Here I recap the points and include some updates:
1. Uganda together with Rwanda have invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo and supported brutal militias there including most recently M23; in 2005 the International Court of Justice found Uganda liable of what amounts to war crimes in Congo and awarded the victim country $6 billion to $10 billion as reparations, which has not been paid.
2. The International Criminal Court, which has indicted Sudan's dictator Omar al Bashir, and other leaders, also opened an investigation of alleged war crimes by Uganda's military in Congo. Gen. Museveni must have believed the prospect of being indicted was strong; according to an article in The Wall Street Journal on June 8, 2006, he asked then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to block the investigation.
3. Uganda continues illegal operations in a neighboring country. Its troops currently are in South Sudan, where it's taken sides in the civil war, supporting President Salva Kiir against former Vice President Riek Machar. Human Rights Watch has issued a report that forces of the Museveni/Kiir alliance may have been responsible for the use of banned cluster bombs in the war and called for an investigation. (And by the way I don't recall that you ever issued a statement about the alleged use of cluster bombs.)
4. Mr. Kutesa has been involved in numerous serious alleged corruption scandals in Uganda dating over 15 years. Former U.S. ambassador to Uganda Jerry Lanier in a cable to the State Department on October 17, 2009, said Mr. Kutesa was one of three ministers that Gen. Museveni was unwilling to hold accountable for corruption.
5. Mr. Kutesa was censured by Uganda's Parliament in 1999 in a vote of 152 - 94 by the nation's lawmakers for enriching himself through conflict of interest. Parliament found that he had used his post as then minister of finance to divert funds from the national airlines, Uganda Airlines, to benefit a private company Entebbe Handling Services (ENHAS), of which he was Chairman.
ENHAS had entered a 50/50 business arrangement with Uganda Airlines.
In addition to being censured for "serious conflict of interest" Parliament was also told that Mr. Kutesa engineered a sale of the airlines' stock at basement price to ENHAS, resulting in a loss of nearly $2 million to the airline, which was a gain for Mr. Kutesa's company. Uganda Airlines eventually was driven into bankruptcy.
Parliament found that Kutesa had also unilaterally removed representatives of Uganda Airlines as signatories on joint accounts with his private company ENHAS. He retained himself as a signatory and added other aides and colleagues, including Gen. Salim Saleh, a younger brother of the president, Gen. Museveni.
According to Parliamentary testimony in Uganda, Mr. Kutesa also threatened the life of a witness, Mr. Dick Turinawe, who was then General Manager of Uganda Airlines. Mr. Turinawe had for months demanded financial accountability from Mr. Kutesa as the airlines was kept in the dark regarding what was supposed to be joint finances. During one heated Board meeting, when Mr. Turinawe refused to return potentially incriminating documents that an aide to Mr. Kutesa had handed to him, another Kutesa aide tried, unsuccessfully, to physically grab the papers from Mr. Turinawe. According to the Parliamentary transcript, Mr. Kutesa then warned Mr. Turinawe: "I hope you live to read those documents."
Mr. Secretary, clearly, Mr. Kutesa does not belong anywhere near the United Nations administration let alone as President of the General Assembly.
Mr. Secretary after Senator Schumer issued his statement objecting to Mr. Kutesa's candidacy, your spokesperson sent me a statement saying you had also opposed Uganda's anti-Gay law and that you made this clear publicly, and directly, to the Ugandan leadership.
However, Mr. Secretary your spokesperson did not respond to my question concerning your own position regarding Mr. Kutesa's candidacy for the Presidency and if you intend to revoke his visa as the more than 7,000 Petitioners urge.
There is certainly precedent; in April you refused to issue a visa to Hamid Aboutalebi, Iran's designated Permanent Representative to the UN, when it was revealed that he had been one of the students who seized hostages and the U.S. embassy in 1979.
Mr. Secretary, it's true that Gen. Museveni's regime plays an important role in U.S. African foreign policy by providing thousands of soldiers to help stabilize war-torn Somalia which the U.S. fears may fall to al-Shabab, reportedly allied with al-Qaeda.
However, two points of consideration:
(1) You are aware that the UN's Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group has considered imposing an arms embargo because many of the weapons sent to support the Somalia and Uganda forces battling al-Shabab militia may have ended up being sold to them instead. This makes sense, appalling as it may sound: the Ugandan regime knows that were it to defeat al-Shabab outright, it would no longer enjoy the scandalous relationship with Washington that allows it to get away with gross human rights abuses simply because it's considered a "partner" in the war on terror. In other words, the Uganda regime needs al-Shabab.
(2) It's wrong for the U.S. to believe that only a regime led by Gen. Museveni would cooperate in fighting global terrorism in Somalia and elsewhere in Africa. In fact, when the U.S. embraces a ruthless regime such as Gen. Museveni's, even some of the militia leaders conclude that "human rights" and the "rule of law" are meaningless words -- all that an African dictator need do is claim to be a U.S. ally in the war on terror, just as Gen. Museveni does.
This cynical approach repudiates everything President Obama said when he addressed Ghana's Parliament in 2009: the president said the days of African tyrants were over.
Mr. Secretary, should Mr. Kutesa be compelled to withdraw his candidacy, the position would still go to Africa -- Cameroon's foreign minister Mr. Pierre Moukoko Mbonjo, who had withdrawn in order to allow a clear path for Mr. Kutesa, could revive his campaign.
Mr. Secretary if ever there was an instance when a senior American public official could do something that sent a strong message to Africa and the world about the importance of the United Nations Organization, than this is such a moment.
The rape victims and massacre survivors of Uganda's multiple invasions of Congo, where an estimated 7 million people have perished, are watching. So are the victims of political repression and violence in Uganda, including against the LGBT community.
Do the right thing and revoke Mr. Kutesa's visa.