WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday likened new anti-gay legislation in Uganda that imposes harsh penalties for homosexuality to anti-Semitic laws in Nazi Germany or apartheid South Africa.
"You could change the focus of this legislation to black or Jewish and you could be in 1930s Germany or you could be in 1950s-1960s apartheid South Africa," Kerry told a group of reporters. "It was wrong there egregiously in both places and it is wrong here," he added.
Kerry said the legislation signed by President Yoweri Museveni on Monday was "atrocious" and expressed concern at mounting discrimination against gays in 78 countries around the world.
Homosexuality is a taboo in almost all Africa countries and illegal in 37, including in Uganda where it has been criminalized since British colonial rule.
The new law, however, threatens to exact harsher treatment for offenders and makes it a crime to fail to report anyone who breaks the law, human rights activists say.
"What is happening in Uganda is atrocious and it presents all of us with an enormous challenge because LGBT rights are human rights and the signing of this anti-homosexuality law is flat out morally wrong," Kerry said.
"This anti-gay movement is obviously bubbling up in various places around the world; it is not just an African problem, it's a global problem, and we are wrestling with it and we are going to as we go forward."
The State Department's annual global human rights report will highlight the issue when it is released on Thursday and Kerry said a gathering of U.S. ambassadors in Washington would discuss ways to deal with rising prejudice against homosexuals.
Since the enactment of the anti-gay legislation, Washington has said it is reviewing its relationship with Uganda's government. The country is a Western ally in the fight against al Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia and efforts to hunt down Joseph Kony, the head of the Lord's Resistance Army wanted for war crimes.
The United States, which has warned that the decision complicates its relationship with Uganda, has expressed concern that the crackdown will affect the fight against AIDS, which together with security is the cornerstone of U.S. aid programs in Uganda.
Western donors have focused AIDS spending in Uganda where a wave of health programs and a public awareness campaign led to a sharp reduction in the AIDS rate.
The United States spends more than $485 million on bilateral assistance to Uganda, with the bulk of the funding focused on health programs and security, including military training.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Eric Walsh)