African Press International (API)

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Bush turns blind eye to human rights abuse, toasts Museveni

Posted by African Press International on November 5, 2007

By KEVIN J KELLEY
Special Correspondent

Ugandas support for US strategic aims in East Africa is causing Washington to ignore Kampalas shortcomings on democracy and human rights, advocacy groups charged in the aftermath of talks between the two countries leaders.

In comments to reporters after their October 30 meeting in the Oval Office, Presidents George W Bush and Yoweri Museveni made no reference to issues of raised by Human Rights Watch and similar organisations.

President Museveni said his discussions with President Bush had focused on trade relations and various types of US aid to Uganda, with attention also given to security issues.

In addition, the Ugandan leader made what some analysts regard as misleading remarks about his countrys gains from the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) and the Millennium Challenge Account, a US programme that rewards countries for good governance, economic growth, and education and health initiatives.

Michael Poffenberger, director of a Washington-based NGO focused on the conflict in northern Uganda, said he was incredibly disappointed by the content of the White House meeting.

The Museveni regime has been very effective in leveraging key aspects of relations with the US to prevent Washington from speaking critically about the situation in northern Uganda as well as about human rights and democracy throughout the country, Mr Poffenberger said. Ugandas partnership in the war on terror and its troop deployment in Somalia have become the first priority in the US relationship.

Mr Poffenbergers organisation, Resolve Uganda, had earlier urged the US to denounce threats of renewed warfare in the north.

Jendayi Frazer, the top Africa official in the US State Department, had warned during a visit to Kampala in September that the US would support regional military action to mop up the Lords Resistance Army if peace negotiations broke down.

But neither President Bush nor President Museveni mentioned northern Uganda in their remarks to the press last week. A spokesman for the US National Security Council said later, however, that the leaders did talk about the need for the peace talks to go forward.

The Bush administration remained silent, however, on Uganda-related issues raised by Human Rights Watch and by Senator John Kerry, the Democratic Partys 2004 presidential candidate.

In a letter to President Bush, Mr Kerry cited reports of intimidation, voting irregularities and government harassment in connection with Ugandas 2006 elections.

The senator also noted that Mr Museveni had broken his express promise in 2001 not to run for a third presidential term.

Human Rights Watch had urged President Bush to press President Museveni in regard to discrimination against HIV-positive Ugandans, protection of civilians in Somalia, and abuses committed by Ugandan soldiers in Karamoja.

The frank, open and honest dialogue about HIV/Aids prevention key to past success in Uganda is increasingly being replaced by an environment in which those living with HIV, or perceived to be infected, are stigmatised, discriminated against, and blamed for their infections, the rights group charged.

The group asked President Bush to remind President Museveni that discrimination against HIV-positive Ugandans as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gender individuals violates basic human rights and is dangerous to public health.

But in his public comments following the meeting with President Museveni, the US president said in regard to HIV and Aids that Uganda is the epitome of how one can implement a comprehensive ABC strategy to achieve concrete and specific results for the sake of humanity.

President Bush was referring to the Abstain, Be faithful and use Condoms approach to preventing transmission of the Aids-causing virus. He made no reference to alleged bias in Ugandas response to the epidemic.

Noting that Ugandan forces comprise the only African Union peacekeeping troops currently in Somalia, Human Rights Watch said the US government should help train the Ugandans in humanitarian law.

President Bush did not mention human rights concerns in Somalia, instead suggesting that President Museveni has got good advice and has got good judgment when it comes to issues like Somalia and the Sudan.

The group also said that President Museveni should be urged to order prosecution of Ugandan soldiers responsible for past human-rights violations in Karamoja.

We also ask that you urge him to address the root causes of violence in Karamoja, including the weakness of civilian justice and law-and-order institutions in the region, Human Rights Watch added in its letter to President Bush.

The two presidents apparently did not discuss Karamoja in the course of their meeting.

They did confer on the US preferential trade initiative for Africa, with President Museveni saying afterward, We are most pleased with Agoa. However, Ugandas sales of goods to the US have declined in recent years from $25.9 million in 2004 to $21.8 million in 2006.

A leaked report prepared in July for Uganda Tourism, Trade and Industry Minister Janat Mukawaya said the drop in exports to the US was mainly due to supply-side constraints.

President Museveni also suggested last week that Uganda is receiving funding through the Millennium Challenge Account for infrastructure projects in the country.

But Uganda has remained ineligible for this form of US aid due to American concerns about pervasive corruption.

The US provided $10.4 million last March for anti-corruption initiatives intended to help Uganda qualify eventually for Millennium Challenge assistance.

Lifted and published by API/APN africanpress@chello.no tel +47 932 99 739 or +47 6300 2525 source.theeastafrican

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