US to terminate economic ties with Uganda over ‘gross violations’ of human rights

A shoulder-height picture of Joe Biden on stage of a Bidenomics conference.

The US intends to cut economic ties with Uganda following the East African country’s implementation of an anti-homosexuality bill.

President Joe Biden wrote to the House speaker and president of the Senate on Monday (30 October) declaring his plan to end the US relationship with Uganda and several other African nations over what he described as “gross violations” of human rights.

Once approved, the Central African Republic, Gabon, Niger and Uganda will be frozen out of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a US policy from the early 2000s that aims to promote economic growth in African countries.

“Despite intensive engagement between the United States and the Central African Republic, Gabon, Niger and Uganda, these countries have failed to address United States’ concerns about their non-compliance with the AGOA eligibility criteria,” Biden said.

Section 104F of the AGOA’s requirements states that to be eligible for aid, countries must not “engage in gross violations of internationally recognised human rights” or “provide support for acts of international terrorism”.

Biden argued that Gabon and Niger had not established “continual progress” towards improving its human rights record while the Central African Republic and Uganda had violated international human rights.

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Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act has left the LGBTQ+ community living in fear of their lives. (Credit: Getty Images)

In May, Uganda passed sweeping anti-LGBTQ+ reforms – dubbed the Anti-Homosexuality Act – that ban homosexuality.

As well as adding further sanctions on LGBTQ+ Ugandans, the law introduces an “aggravated homosexuality” clause which is defined as sex with a person under the age of 18 or while HIV positive. It carries the death sentence.

Since the legislation was passed, there has been a noticeable spike in anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes and abuse in Uganda – as predicted by several human rights groups who opposed the bill.

Amnesty International’s regional director for East and Southern Africa, Tigere Chagutah, said it was “deeply disturbing” to see the Ugandan authorities prosecute people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Discrimination and persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in the country must be halted,” he added.

Calls for Biden to cut economic ties were first heard in July when California congressman Robert Garcia said it was a “stark violation of our fundamental principles” to continue aiding Uganda.

Fellow Democrat Becca Balint made similar demands, saying the US “cannot continue to support countries that actively persecute and criminalise LGBTQI+ people.”

The Vermont representative added: “[The] situation for LGBTQI+ people in Uganda is a matter of life or death.”

Biden added in his open letter that the termination of the AGOA eligibility would take effect by 1 January, but the White House would “continue to assess” whether each country meets eligibility requirements.