WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is urging Uganda to stop a bill that would criminalize homosexuality, saying its passage could encourage other African countries to make similar moves, a top U.S. diplomat said on Friday.
"We believe that this legislation is a violation of human rights," Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson told reporters after a meeting with gay and lesbian activists at the State Department.
"We are concerned that if this legislation passes that it could in fact encourage others to do this. We will not have a double standard on human rights. We are opposed to this kind of legislation whether it is in Rwanda or any other country in Africa," he said.
The bill, which calls for the death penalty for "serial offenders," is in the committee stage and could be altered before a final vote. Activists say they will fight the bill in court if it passes.
Carson, the top U.S. diplomat for Africa, said the U.S. government had been in touch with Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni to express its opposition to the measure, which was put forward by a member of parliament in the East African nation.
"We are calling on him to exercise leadership in ensuring that the legislation is not passed," Carson said, adding that Museveni was empowered to veto legislation that comes forward.
Carson stopped short of tying future U.S. aid to the bill. Uganda is a major recipient of HIV/AIDS relief and received an estimated $390 million in overall U.S. aid in 2009, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.
"I'm not going to go down that road because we have not yet lost this battle," Carson said. "We are looking for President Museveni to show the same kind of leadership that he's shown in the fight against AIDS in the fight to protect the rights of all adults, men and women, whether they are straight, gay, lesbian or otherwise."
While Uganda has been lauded for its reforms and economic growth since 1986, rights groups and some donors have criticized Museveni's government for increasingly cracking down on opposition, media and civil society groups.
Museveni has been quoted as saying that homosexuality is a Western import, joining some Ugandan and continental religious leaders who believe it is un-African.
Rights groups say the draft Anti-Homosexuality Bill is part of a growing campaign against homosexuals in Uganda, which critics say is to divert attention from corruption and other political issues.
Activists also point to the bill as an example of the growing influence of U.S. evangelical Christians in Uganda.
Editing by David Alexander and Xavier Briand