Diplomatic moves needed to halt Uganda anti-gay Bill
Of great relevance to Uganda’s friends and supporters, article 18 nullifies what it calls any “inconsistencies” or contradictions in international legal instruments – conventions, treaties, protocols and declarations – that Uganda has signed or ratified. Over the years on the world stage, these very instruments have been the sites where the human rights of LGBT people have been recognised and elaborated.
This Bill expressly states that language such as “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” cannot be allowed to “legitimise” homosexuality. But, at the international level, it is this very language that embodies a recognition of the innate nature of us humans, and outlaws discrimination based upon it – everyone has a sexual orientation, be that lesbian, gay or straight, just as every human has a gender identity.
Crucially, if this Bill becomes law, the impact on non-governmental organisations working for human rights, women’s empowerment and HIV and Aids particularly will be profound. Civil society organisations are the backbone of democracy – through their concentration on specific issues, they mobilise and organise to hold a government to account, and they also provide support to vulnerable populations generally forgotten by government. Therefore, they are a threat to oppressive governments.
Clearly from a human rights perspective this Bill should not become law and all diplomatic efforts need to be focused on halting the passage this Bill.
When the state is the instigator of persecution and oppression of a particular population through its laws and policies, it is incumbent on that state’s friends and supporters to actively and urgently help find ways to terminate such abuse.
Sometimes the duty of friends is to say the hard thing and challenge their behaviour when it is harmful, and take action accordingly. We have the global collective logic of human rights through which to speak, a codification of decency and dignity learned from the atrocities of the second World War, lest we should ever forget what silence generates.
Redesign funding strategy
In the case of Uganda, which suffered so brutally under Idi Amin throughout the 1970s when hundreds of thousands were murdered, Irish Catholic missions and the Irish State have been an important contributor to that country’s transition into functionality and rule of law, and helped stem the tide of HIV throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Due to corrupt practices emanating from the prime minister’s office, Ireland has suspended all aid to Uganda (over €33 million each year) while we review our monitoring systems. Despite the theft of funds, we should not abandon Uganda now, but we should take the opportunity to redesign a significant portion of our funding strategy so that the resources go directly to civil society organisations, including LGBT ones.
I also suggest we consider initiating a strategic dialogue directly with civil society organisations in Uganda. Much like the approach described by Hillary Clinton at last week’s Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe meeting in Dublin, the front line we should focus on is building durable change grounded in Ugandan civil society.
When dead men talk, we have to listen. And we have to act.
Katherine Zappone is an Independent Senator and director of the Centre for Progressive Change