Push to block Kutesa UN job gathers pace

Monday June 2 2014

Mr Sam Kutesa is facing opposition over his UN

Mr Sam Kutesa is facing opposition over his UN job quest on grounds that his political record is inconsistent with UN principles. photo by RACHEL AJWANG 

By TABU BUTAGIRA

Kampala.

A campaign to block Uganda’s Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa from becoming president of the UN General Assembly (UNGA)is gaining international momentum following a call by US lawmakers and rights campaigners.

Mr Kutesa, fronted as the consensus candidate by Africa whose turn it is to provide the next UNGA president, yesterday urged the lobbyists “not to squabble without basis”.

According to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, New York senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer oppose Mr Kutesa’s bid because of Uganda’s new Anti-homosexuality law condemned by the West as “discriminatory”, and the minister’s own record.

The Ugandan Parliament in 1999 censured Mr Kutesa, then a junior Investment minister, for alleged abuse of office and influence-peddling.
He bounced back to Cabinet and was named Foreign Affairs Minister since 2005, but “stepped aside” in October 2011, to face prosecution for abuse of office and causing financial loss.

Court acquitted him of the charges the same way did Parliament that investigated him and two senior colleagues ministers over separate allegations of bribe-taking from foreign oil firms.

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Based on these and the anti-gay law, UK rights campaigner Peter Tatchell wants Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Minister William Hague to “block Kutesa’s appointment on the grounds that his political record is inconsistent with UN principles,” the Guardian reported.

In Kampala, minister Kutesa said he enjoys regional support as well as the backing of both Hague and US Secretary of State John Kerry, whom he is due to meet in Washington DC.

“I don’t believe that anybody should be blocking my presidency on those lines…I urge the protagonists not to squabble. The issues they are raising have no basis,” he said, pointing out that no court has convicted him.

An online Change.org petition to President Obama is gathering hundreds of signatures, and its US-based Ugandan initiator wants the State Department to deny Mr Kutesa visa ahead of the June 11 when the 193 UN member countries are expected to acclaim the minister as president.

The rotational UNGA presidency is figurative and is not expected to accrue Uganda any direct benefits.

“Even when there is no particular benefit, if the person is of great standing and stature and does a superlative job; that would bring honour to our country. The reverse, however, is true,” former UN undersecretary Olara Otunnu, now Uganda Peoples Congress party leader, said of Mr Kutesa’s suitability for the coveted slot.

Mr Otunnu said whereas his views were likely to be inferred as an opposition contest against Uganda government, “the issues [raised against Kutesa nevertheless] are grave and should be judged on merit”.
Last December, Mr Kutesa promised to use his tenure to help “prioritise Africa issues and raise the profile of Uganda”.

Human Rights Watch’s senior Africa researcher, Ms Maria Burnett, was quoted as having said: “There are real concerns about Sam Kutesa’s commitment to the values embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including his defence of Uganda’s profoundly discriminatory anti-homosexuality law.”

Mr Kutesa dismissed the indictment, saying: “In Africa, almost 40 of the 54 countries have similar laws. Are you saying that Africa should never produce UN General Assembly president?”

Sam kutesa at glance

Sam Kutesa is a lawyer, former police officer and has been a long-serving minister in President Museveni’s government, handling the Foreign Affairs docket since 2005.

The AU has fronted him as its consensus candidate for UN General Assembly President. The election is due next week. If picked by acclamation as expected, he will chair this year’s September UN General Assembly. Some US senators and rights campaigners say his record and that of Uganda contradict UN values, allegations the Foreign Minister denies.

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