The Irish Government must make it absolutely clear that the passage of the anti-homosexuality law will have very serious, practical consequences in our relations with Uganda, says Adam Long.
The roots of the recently passed Ugandan anti-homosexuality law (mandating life imprisonment for ‘repeat offenders’ among other repugnant measures) can be found in the activities of seasoned anti-gay campaigners thousands of miles away from Uganda itself. For over 30 years, far right religious groups and activists in the United States have been bitterly engaged in what have been termed the ‘culture wars’ – a highly organised and well-funded backlash against the progressive social gains that women and minorities began to secure in the 1960s and 1970s.
But history and demographics were not on their side and they only succeeded in stalling progress on LGBT equality issues. But now that LGBT rights have finally begun to catch up, leaders of the anti-gay movement in America have been turning their attentions elsewhere. Recognising that they have lost the argument in the US, there has been a shift in strategy towards exporting their homophobia abroad – with deadly consequences.
Coordinating their efforts with local religious leaders and political figures, anxious to divert attention away from rampant corruption and mass poverty to the ‘moral’ issue of homosexuality, hate group figures like Scott Lively and a number of other religious right activists have played a key role in the spate of homophobic laws passed recently from Russia to Nigeria and now Uganda. But in an encouraging sign that he may yet be held accountable for his actions, Lively was recently ordered to stand trial for crimes against humanity by a federal Judge in Massachusetts, in a case taken through the US Courts by Ugandan based human rights activists.
On the international front, Norway, Denmark and Sweden, traditionally three of the most generous development aid donors, have announced the suspension of all aid to the government of Uganda until the ‘anti-homosexuality’ law is repealed, and will instead direct monies to charities and NGOs working on the ground. The Dutch government, which provided funding to the Ugandan legal system, has also withdrawn its support, saying it does not wish to be complicit in any system that persecutes people on account of their sexual orientation. The European Parliament, meanwhile, has passed a strongly worded resolution calling on EU members to redirect aid away from the homophobic governments of Nigeria and Uganda towards local NGOs, and for travel bans to be imposed against those officials involved in the drawing up of anti-gay legislation. And significantly, the World Bank has frozen a $90 million loan earmarked for Uganda’s health system on account of the new law.
The response closer to home has seemed more ambiguous, however. Uganda is listed as one of Ireland’s ‘donor priority’ states, which means that the country receives a significant amount of funding through the Irish Aid programme. In the immediate aftermath of the passage of the law, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Eamon Gilmore said this would have adverse consequences in terms of Ireland’s relationship with Uganda. However, in an appearance before an Oireachtas Committee in recent weeks, David Cooney, the Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs, stated that it was ‘not appropriate’ to withdraw funding, despite the passage of the homophobic law. He then went on to draw a rather strange comparison between the significant EU funding Ireland received in the year prior to the decriminalisation of homosexuality here in 1993 to the current situation vis-à-vis Irish aid to the Ugandan government.
Such a comparison is inaccurate however. While the archaic and offensive laws criminalising male homosexuality lingered on our statute books for far too long, it is disingenuous to compare the admittedly shoddy actions of the Irish State before decriminalisation in 1993 to the state sponsored terror that the Ugandan authorities have just unleashed on their LGBT population with the passage of this repugnant law. The two situations are simply not comparable and certainly do not provide the necessary justification to continue the current financial support to a Ugandan government that has enacted such a severe and draconian measure, violating the most basic and fundamental human rights of LGBT people.
The Irish government has publicly committed to an admirable policy of prioritising LGBT rights in terms of its global human rights objectives. Indeed, this was a strong theme of our recent EU Presidency and in other forums.
Ireland must now make clear that the passage of the anti-homosexuality law will indeed have very serious, practical consequences in our relations with Uganda. In doing so, we would be giving real and tangible effect to the policy of prioritising the protection of LGBT rights internationally. This should include an immediate halt to all financial support to the Ugandan state (as other European countries have correctly done) and also support for travel bans for those officials involved in the drawing up of this odious law, in line with the resolution passed by the European Parliament.
Some may argue that we need to respect, or at the very least, understand the cultural sensitivities that exist in Africa and other parts of the world where homophobic thinking is so dominant. This is a false argument, however, as basic human rights must know no borders. And what is at issue here is very basic – the right of LGBT people to live their lives free of torture, imprisonment or worse.
The United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon (pictured) was right when he stated that cultural and/or religious factors can never provide justification for homophobia. The words of the Cameroon-based Alice Nkom, one of Africa’s most admired and experienced LGBT rights defenders, should also be heeded. At a recent event in Berlin to honour her human rights work, she made a passionate plea for all development aid to governments that abuse LGBT people to be suspended.
The response of the Secretary General of The Department of Foreign Affairs before that Oireachtas committee was disappointing and inadequate. The earlier words of the Tánaiste were more forceful, where he stated: “I have made it clear, including in direct talks with President Museveni, that the enactment of this draconian legislation would affect our valued relationship with Uganda.”
That clear statement of intent now needs to be given effect to.
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