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Ugandan activists criticise EU inaction over LGBTQ law

Uganda parliament passes harsh anti-LGBTQ bill mostly unchanged in Kampala

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Gay rights activists on Friday criticised a European Union announcement this week that it would not cut funding to Uganda over a harsh anti-LGBTQ law enacted in May.

In a written statement to the European parliament issued on Wednesday, European Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen said suspending financial aid to Uganda over the law, which prescribes the death penalty for certain same-sex acts, would deprive vulnerable populations of vital support.

"Disengagement by the EU would also create gaps which may be further filled by other players who do not share EU values," she added.

The EU is one of Uganda's biggest donors, funding infrastructure projects, health programmes and food assistance.

Rights activists from the Convening for Equality (CFE) coalition said in a statement that the EU's position failed to ensure its funds would not support violence and discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

"The recent EU announcement misses a critical opportunity to take more strategic action to protect the fundamental principle of non-discrimination - something the EU and EU member states profess a deep commitment to," said Clare Byarugaba, one of CFE's leaders.

Another CFE leader, Frank Mugisha, said he did not disagree that European disengagement from Uganda would be misguided, but said the EU had options for repurposing its financial support.

"An effective response is one that fine-tunes and reallocates EU assistance to Uganda in ways that ensure that those who spout hatred and catalyze violence and discrimination against LGBTIQ people - including Ugandan government officials - won’t benefit from EU taxpayers' money," Mugisha said.

The Ugandan law also criminalises the "promotion" of homosexuality. At least five people have been charged so far under the law, including two accused of the capital offence of "aggravated homosexuality".

In response to the law's enactment, the United States imposed visa restrictions on some Uganda officials in June, and the World Bank suspended all new public loans to Uganda last month.

(Editing by Aaron Ross and Hugh Lawson)