In a significant move, the United States government has imposed sanctions on Johnson Byabashaija, the Commissioner General of the Uganda Prisons Service (UPS), citing alleged torture of prisoners and serious human rights abuses within UPS facilities.
The U.S. Treasury Department stated that members of the UPS, during Byabashaija’s tenure, engaged in torture and other abuses against prisoners.
It claimed that prisoners, including government critics and LGBTQI+ community members, faced beatings and were held without access to legal counsel.
The U.S. specifically highlighted a 2020 case where LGBTQI+ individuals were denied access to their lawyers, subjected to physical abuse, including forced anal examinations and scalding. The sanctions target Byabashaija as a leader associated with entities involved in serious human rights abuses.
The U.S. emphasized that the goal of sanctions is not punitive but aims to bring about positive behavioral change. It acknowledged recent attempts by the Uganda Prisons Service to implement human rights-related measures but noted that these efforts fell short.
As a consequence of the sanctions, all property and interests owned by Byabashaija in the U.S. or under U.S. control are blocked and must be reported to U.S. authorities.
This move follows Washington’s increased pressure on Uganda to revoke the Anti-Homosexuality Law. The U.S. government has previously implemented visa restrictions, discouraged American companies from investing in Uganda, and removed Uganda from the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) list.
President Museveni has corresponded with U.S. President Joe Biden amid strained relations. The Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda has faced criticism for its severe penalties, including 20 years in jail for engaging in homosexuality and the death penalty for aggravated homosexuality involving minors or vulnerable groups.
The U.S. Treasury Department indicated that positive changes in behavior, such as eliminating torture and improving prison conditions, could lead to a reconsideration of sanctions.