Ambassador DeLisi Interview with BBC World Service on the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Law

AMB DeLisi: What I heard from the co-owner of The Red Pepper disturbs me greatly.  I don’t think any responsible journalists believe that this is a story, that exposing people’s lives and putting people at risk is the nature of journalism.  It’s not the nature of telling a story.  It’s designed to be sensationalist; it’s designed to hurt people.  And we had the example in 2011 of The Rolling Stone and the subsequent death of David Kato.  We as a government, and, I would argue, that the BBC as a journalistic entity, should be appalled, and we certainly are appalled by the course that The Red Pepper has chosen.  And I will tell you that for the United States, and I will just say this as a matter of record, for those who propagate hate, those who incite violence against others, what they do within their society, I may not be able to control.  But I can tell you they will not be welcome in the United States of America.

BBC: What about the concern about United States aid to Uganda?  Many, many people, especially in the health sector, are very concerned about the ramifications of this.  What can you tell us?

AMB DeLisi: Well, you know, certainly I think everyone is concerned about the ramifications both of the legislation on the ability to effectively deliver aid.  We have been a huge, huge partner with this government in the health sector.  Today, there are 500,000–over a half a million Ugandans–who are alive and continue to live productive lives because the United States funds their antiretroviral therapies. We are, we are and have been absolutely committed in the fight against mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS.  We have been committed to getting more people on treatment, addressing male circumcision, and all of these issues.  But obviously, this also touches the LGBT community.  And if we have legislation that will impede their ability to receive care, that will intimidate them, that will force them to go underground, there’s the first question of whether or not that aid can continue to be as effective as we want when delivered in its current form.  Equally, there’s a great concern that the providers themselves, health care officers, NGOs who are working in this area, faith-based partners, so many, that they may be subject to arrest or detention under this law which is overly broad and highly problematic.  And we need to get these issues clarified so that we can determine how to move forward. So just in and of itself, that’s one of the basic concerns.

BBC: Mr. Ambassador…

AMB DeLisi: Yes, go ahead.

BBC: You–I get from what you’re saying that that you’re, you’re very angry about, about this law, but also, I mean it is fair to say that many Ugandans support the government and have come out in support of this law, of this anti-gay law.

AMB DeLisi: Well, that’s, let’s be clear, that we’re not, this isn’t about anger.  This is about how do we continue a partnership that has benefitted the people of Uganda tremendously over the past 50 years.  We are disappointed; we think it’s wrong.  We think that it’s a violation of basic human rights.  Whatever–you know people will have their debates about cultural norms and values.  We are not seeking to tell Africans what they should think.  But we are, as a sovereign nation, articulating our core belief that there should not be discrimination under the law, that every citizen should have equal protection under the law, no matter their color, no matter their gender, and no matter their sexual orientation.  That’s our fundamental concern.

BBC: Right, and when you.

AMB DeLisi: I will say that…

BBC: Sorry, just when you said earlier that people that propagate hate are not welcome in the United States.  Does that mean that the Embassy could deny people visa for instance to the United States?

AMB DeLisi: Visas can be denied for people who incite violence, who propagate hate, who have used political violence.  There are many bases on which we can deny a visa, and I can tell you that we will be carefully examining all of these questions as we move forward.  We will be examining, and I applaud the Minister of Health’s statement today about access to care.  It’s wonderful to hear that statement, but, nonetheless, the way the law is written, it is so vague.  I need much clearer guidance from this government, and a clear commitment from the government of Uganda on the principles on which they will enforce and act before I can be confident we can continue some of these programs.  So we’ll be looking at that.  And of course, the other thing that we will, we’ll be looking to see how this, this legislation affects our partnership overall.  And it’s going to be a challenge.  But, you know, I’m just so disappointed, we are  disappointed in the law, but just as, as they’re reviewing in the cabinet right now their anti-pornography law which they found to be overly broad and problematic, they should review this law.  It should be repealed.  This is our basic position.  But I will finally say that I am so disappointed when I hear people dismissing this partnership, and dismissing not just the United States but all the Western support to this country.  As I said earlier, the United States provides over 720 to 750 million dollars in assistance to Uganda–I can’t begin to tell you how many trillions of shillings that is; I can’t do that math–but what I will tell you…

BBC: But that is now at risk?

AMB DeLisi: But, well, I’m not saying that it’s all at risk.  But what I am saying is when I hear a government saying, “This means nothing.  It’s not valuable to us.  We don’t need it.”  I would ask you, go ask those half a million Ugandans who are alive because of our treatment if it means nothing to them.  Go ask the 55,000 children who will be alive two years from now because of the universal bed net campaign we are funding, if it matters to them and their family.  Ask the mothers who will survive childbirth because of our commitment to maternal and child health, or ask the 35% of this population under the age of 10 who are so nutritionally vulnerable, whether the food security assistance provided under President Obama’s initiatives means nothing to them.

BBC: Mr. Ambassador…

AMB DeLisi: I hope that the people of Uganda will remember that this isn’t just about a debate about culture or homosexuality, but it is about core values and beliefs and about a partnership that has endured for 50 years in a positive way, and if keeping mothers alive, helping people with AIDS, dealing with food security, that’s all about our values as Americans.

BBC: Mr. Ambassador…

AMB DeLisi: And if that’s cultural imperialism or social imperialism,  I’m a social imperialist.  Yes, go ahead, I’m sorry, you wanted to ask.

BBC: Sorry, we’re just running out of time, so I just want to get from you–clearly–what would it take, what do you need to see happen with, with Uganda’s government for these aid programs that you just talked about at length to be secure, to assure the Ugandan people that they’re not at risk?  What do they need to do?

AMB DeLisi: Well, I’ll tell you two things.  First I need to be able to do an internal review of all of our activities and our partnerships to ensure that as we move forward, they–our aid is applied and used in a non-discriminatory manner consistent with American values and beliefs, that’s, that’s core to us.  Secondly, I will need clear assurances from the government that when we and our implementing partners are involved in programs that we have been involved in for years and years and that they tell us they want us to continue, that they are not going to be at risk, that they are not going to be imprisoned, and finally, of course, you know, that’s for the short term, just even to address the aid, the immediate concerns on aid.  Washington is assessing what this means for our partnership broadly.  But the best answer? Respect the rights of all the people.  Repeal this legislation.  Think again, just as they are on the anti-pornography legislation.

BBC: Are you currently in talks with the government?

AMB DeLisi: We’re always in communication with the government.  I’m not sure what you mean by “in talks.”  For example, I spoke yesterday with the health minister.

BBC: For example, have you expressed what you just told us to President Museveni and his government?

AMB DeLisi: Certainly, my…The government of Uganda has no, no doubts about the United States’ position on these issues.  It has been clear from President Obama and Secretary Kerry, from myself.  I spoke with Mr. Ragunda, Minister Ragunda, I’ve spoken with him several times since the law was, was about to be signed and then signed, and I hope to meet with him in the next day or so again to get into more of the specifics as to exactly what we will need to ensure that our people are able to continue to help the people of Uganda without threat, without risk.  But it should not just be our people, it should be all the citizens of Uganda able to live their lives without the fear of this draconian legislation over their heads.

BBC: Sir, I’m intrigued by your reference to social imperialism, and in fact your pride, if you like, to have that label thrown around your neck in terms of your willingness…

AMB DeLisi: I, I think it a, I think it a foolish label, but if that’s what, if our values, and I’m proud of our values, and I’m proud that our assistance is related to core American values that go to helping societies, the dignity of the individual, giving people the opportunity to live better lives.  Those are core values.  And if that’s an imposition of values that someone wants to label social imperialism then yes, I will proudly wear a badge that says that I’m a social imperialist.

BBC: Imperialism is such a big word in Africa, isn’t it?  Such a loaded word.  I just wonder if there’s the potential for it to be counterproductive in terms of the argument that you’re making.

AMB DeLisi: They are loaded words. No, honestly I, I’ll embrace if they, if that’s the way that they have, that someone has to think of it, but I, I would argue that we’ve gotten so caught up in the years, these terms neocolonialism, people are quick to throw it about.  You’re imposing your values.  Africans ask to be respected as sovereign nations.  I will tell you that 50 years and more beyond independence, that is, that’s established.  We respect the sovereignty of African states and they are free to make their decisions. But they cannot use, I would argue, that sovereign nations cannot use the argument that “we’re sovereign” to stifle discussion with other sovereign nations and with their partners.  When I am told that we have no-go zones, that this is an-, that we can’t talk about these things–partners, strong sovereign nations, talk to each other and address their differences.  They don’t hide behind “Don’t criticize us, you have no right.”  You know, if we took that rationale, that no one should talk about anyone else, to the extreme, no one would have spoken out about Hitler, no one would speak about the abuses we see around the world.  We were criticized in recent times because we were not quick enough to speak out about the genocide in Rwanda.  Yet today, if we speak out about rights issues that make people uncomfortable, it becomes cultural imperialism or neocolonialism.

- Listen to the BBC interview: Audio link (opens in external site)

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