148. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Tarnoff) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Uganda Policy

We have now completed our overall review of the elements of our relationship with Uganda and the policy options available to us.2 The Secretary has concluded that our policy should be one of consciously distancing the U.S. from Ugandan human rights violations and encouraging international action on Uganda, while not going so far as to sever all U.S. contact with Uganda.

The major specific elements of our policy are as follows:

—We will not grant visas to Ugandans who appear to have been involved in human rights violations, and we will not grant visas for security-related training or for other training which would directly benefit the regime’s repressive apparatus.

—We will continue to prohibit munitions-list exports, and in cooperation with the Commerce Department will deny licenses for “gray area” items (such as shot guns and crime control equipment, and including helicopters and other light aircraft).

—We will also review all other major exports to Uganda from the human rights perspective. We plan to continue to deny commercial aircraft sales, since Uganda’s commercial aviation fleet is at present primarily used for the direct supply and support of the regime and its security apparatus. Other items will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

—We will continue to remind American firms of Uganda’s egregious human rights record and will signal the public relations problems of doing business with Uganda, but (except in cases requiring licensing) we will make clear to American firms considering doing business with Uganda that they must make their own decisions on this subject in light of all the considerations involved.

—We will continue strongly to discourage Americans from traveling to Uganda for any purpose (including business), and will continue to advise the remaining 200-plus American residents to leave.

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—We will play an active role in international discussions of Uganda’s human rights situation and will support resolutions and investigations by the UN Human Rights Commission and other bodies; our focus will be on building an international consensus, and we will closely coordinate our efforts with those of other concerned governments in the interest of maximum effectiveness.

—We will reinforce our present policy of providing humanitarian assistance to Ugandan refugees, both through contributions to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and through special assistance (such as in the education field) where particular needs are identified.

However, at the same time we will not take certain steps advocated by some critics of Uganda, including a number of members of Congress:

—We will not break relations with Uganda, close the Ugandan Embassy in Washington, or restrict the movement of Ugandan diplomats at the United Nations. We will, however, monitor closely and investigate any information received on improper activities by Ugandan personnel in this country (including harassment of exiles) and will take up with the Ugandans any cases where there is substantial evidence of such improper activities.

—We will not support the legislation proposed by Congressman Pease for embargoes of U.S. imports from and exports to Uganda, legislation which would establish difficult precedents for our international trade policy and would stimulate pressure for similar sanctions against other countries with human rights problems. Instead, we will respond to the strong pressures in Congress for action on Uganda in the coming session by working with interested members and committees to develop an acceptable vehicle for Congressional action based on the elements of our policy previously described. A likely approach would be through a resolution similar to the Collins resolution on South Africa.3 We are cautiously optimistic that such an approach can succeed, but success is by no means guaranteed, particularly since there is substantial Congressional support for the Pease boycott bills.

We cannot discount the possibility of retaliation against the Americans resident in Uganda. Accordingly, we are continuing to work on contingency planning for the protection and/or evacuation of those Americans should such retaliation occur or should the situation otherwise deteriorate. A team representing the Departments of State and [Page 393] Defense, led by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs, leaves this weekend for consultations with the West Germans (our protecting power in Kampala) in Bonn and Nairobi aimed at producing agreed plans and courses of action.4

However, in taking these necessary precautions, we fully recognize that our practical ability to protect the Americans in most situations is limited. We are again this week, through the German Government, advising all Americans in Uganda to depart the country. We have also encouraged several interested Congressmen and their staffs to discuss with the headquarters of the various missionary groups the implications of the continued presence of their personnel in Uganda.

Peter Tarnoff
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 76, Uganda: 1/78–1/81. Confidential.
  2. See Document 147.
  3. The Collins amendment to House Concurrent Resolution 388, introduced on October 26, denounced South Africa for the September 12 death of Steve Biko while under detention in South Africa and for the October 19 banning of anti-apartheid individuals and groups. It also urged the President to take measures against South Africa to register the deep concern of the U.S. public about the continued violation of human rights in South Africa.
  4. Reports on the January 17–18 meetings in Bonn are in telegrams 982 from Bonn, January 18, and 1077 from Bonn, January 19. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780027–0408 and D780029–0369, respectively) In telegram 1061 from Nairobi, January 23, the Embassy reported on the January 23 meetings with the German Ambassador in Nairobi. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780033–0718)