When Pope Francis met with Sam Kutesa, the outgoing President of the United Nations General Assembly on Friday in New York, the pontiff should've taught the Ugandan foreign minister the meaning and importance of tolerance.
Responding to a question by a journalist about the sexual orientation of priests on July 29, 2013 the Pontiff memorably said: "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?"
Mr. Kutesa, on the other hand, supported Uganda's cruel anti-LGBT law; when first debated in Parliament, it called for a death sentence by hanging for same-sex relations. The version signed into law on February 24, 2014 by Kutesa's boss, the dictator Gen. Yoweri Museveni, was supposedly more "humane" and imposed life sentences for same-sex relations.
Before the bill was signed into law President Obama referred to it as "odious."
When Kutesa's boss Gen. Museveni was asked by a CNN reporter after he'd signed the law what he thought about gays he said they were "disgusting" and in a related press conference said scientists should draw their blood to study why they were "abnormal."
The law was voided by a Uganda court because Parliament didn't have a quorum when it passed it, meaning it can be re-introduced, and some of Mr. Kutesa's fellow lawmakers have already discussed doing that.
As a result of Kutesa's support for the law, last year, I launched a campaign on Change.org to try and block him from winning the post of President of the United Nations General Assembly; it garnered 15,822 signatures from all over the world.
Several prominent U.S. officials also challenged Kutesa's nomination, as a result of the campaign. They were: U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer; U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel; and, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.
Even though Kutesa still assumed the post on June 11, 2014, the campaign forced global media for the first time to focus on the inhumane nature of the anti-LGBT law and on the conduct of the brutal dictatorship that Gen. Museveni, with aides like Mr. Kutesa, has presided over Uganda for 30 years.
Kutesa learned nothing from that experience. Several months into his new job, he insulted the LGBT activists who had opposed his candidacy, calling them "frogs" according to a report in Uganda's leading newspaper The Daily Monitor, when he visited his country.
As a result of the charged public rhetoric and demonization of the LGBT community by the regime in which Kutesa serves as foreign minister, attacks against them went up 10-fold according to The Guardian in an article last year. Uganda's anti-LGBT law represents the antithesis of the U.N.'s ideals of inclusion and advocacy of rights for all human beings regardless of race, national origin, religion and sexual orientation.
Pope Francis has also focused on denouncing corruption including at the Vatican itself.
In addition to his support for the anti-LGBT law, Kutesa also was unsuited to be President of the U.N. General Assembly because of his links to major corruption scandals including alleged involvement in the embezzlement of $150 million in public funds and alleged acceptance of bribes from oil companies, which were both covered in the BBC and other outlets.
What's more, in a U.S. embassy cable dated January 13, 2010, leaked by Wikileaks, then U.S. ambassador to Uganda Jerry Lanier recommended that the U.S. revoke Kutesa's visa and that "We regard Kutesa's corruption as egregious...."
Mr. Kutesa even put the United Nations itself on the spot. It turns out that he had never told the United Nations that he was an owner of a company called Entebbe Handling Services (ENHAS) which won a multi-million dollar UN contract to handle cargo and equipment for peace keeping operations in the region. Records show that between 2008 to 2013 ENHAS was paid at least $29.2 million under the contracts. During that entire period Mr. Kutesa was, and today remains, foreign affairs minister of Uganda.
What if it were suddenly revealed that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, whose role is the equivalence of foreign minister, all along, owned a company he had never told the UN about and earned nearly $30 million through UN contracts with his company? Would he not resign in disgrace and face possible prosecution?
Even though Kutesa claims he "suspended" his role with ENHAS last June when he took the UN post, this merely confirms that he had engaged in conflict of interest between 2008 to 2013. This is serious and needs to be investigated; perhaps the UN is even entitled to refund of monies, some of which was likely American taxpayers', as the U.S. contributes about 27% of the UN peace keeping budget.
Thankfully, Mr. Kutesa's term comes to a close this month. His successor is Mogens Lyketoft, Denmark's former speaker of Parliament, who is now President-Elect of the United Nations General Assembly.
On Friday, when Pope Francis met with the Ugandan at the United Nations it would've been a great opportunity to insist that gay people are not "disgusting" as Mr. Kutesa's president said; and to have taught him some of the wisdom and compassion that the Pope has become renowned for.
Readers can show support by asking The Holy See's Permanent Observer to the United Nations, Ambassador Archbishop Bernardito Auza to convey this message to Pope Francis by signing the new PETITION or calling the Holy See's Mission at (212) 370-7885.