Should the anti-homosexuality legislation in Uganda make the UK consider invoking greater conditions on aid?
Dr Purna Sen, Prospective 2015 parliamentary candidate for Brighton Pavilion and Deputy Director of the Institute of Public Affairs, LSE
The past few months have seen several setbacks in the realisation of sexual rights in various parts of the world. From the Supreme Court in India upholding the penal code provision that criminalises same sex sexual activity, to the banning of gay marriage in Nigeria, to the anti-homosexuality legislation in Uganda and the undoing of gay marriage provisions in Australia – times seem bad for LGBT rights. There are other developments that are more positive (the passing of equal marriage for example) but here I want to address the option of invoking conditions for the giving of foreign aid – an option that has been raised in the context of an onslaught on LGBT rights.
Uganda has been in the eye of the storm for some time. I first spoke to the government about the anti-homosexuality legislation in 2009. As Head of Human Rights for the Commonwealth Secretariat, I was tasked with leading work that helped member states to uphold the organisation’s values, respecting and promoting rights among them. As a member state and the most recent chair, Uganda was no ordinary member but held a key leadership role. There was limited but growing international awareness of this Bill, which one diplomat described to me as ‘odious and vile’. At the time, it included the following: death penalty for aggravated homosexuality, jail sentences for anyone aware of someone’s homosexuality but not reporting this to the authorities and a commitment to withdrawal from all international human rights obligations.
Uganda was neither alone nor in a minority in the Commonwealth in terms of criminalisation – over 40 members of the Commonwealth and about another 30 outside that association have similar legal provisions. However, to consider Africa a homophobic continent was profoundly unfair. States such as Rwanda and South Africa were exemplary in their stated and legal commitment to equality. Mauritius too subsequently supported moves towards decriminalisation at the United Nations. And voices within countries with abusive laws were raised in opposition: the west had no monopoly of outrage.
Only in recent years have issues of sexuality and sexual orientation entered into development debates, and they remain marginal even now for many practitioners. To deny choice, the right to privacy and dignity are incontrovertibly constraints on the ability to participate in or benefit from development and, more fundamentally, at odds with any notion of social justice that might be associated with development.
In light of these concerns, questions are being asked as to the introduction of conditionality for aid. Indeed, the World Bank has declared a review of a health related funding steam for Uganda. But such options are replete with problems for example- which rights will be selected for such stipulations and what is the threshold to be reached for aid to be re-instated once withdrawn?
First, which rights will form the basis for conditions to be applied? LGBT rights have taken the front seat at the moment – their time has come. We recognize the outrage of homophobia, violence and indignity – and rightly so. I have been struck at the poisonous language of hate, the conceit of equating homosexuality with paedophilia or impaired masculinity, that I have seen and heard.
Human rights are universal – that means all rights for all people so selecting rights for conditionality is difficult. Why would there be conditionality for the violation of LGBT rights but not other rights? Let’s just stay in Uganda for a moment – an anti-pornography law (recently signed off by President Museveni) imposes a dress code on women which has led to harassment and women being stripped and abused in public. If the violation of rights is sufficient to stop aid then would this law count? If that is not grievous enough then how about the flogging of women – in Sudan or in Maldives? How about cutting off hands or other body parts? Stoning? Female genital mutilation, which the UN estimates affects 100-140 million girls across the world? Enslavement of children? Torture? I, and no doubt many others, could argue the case for each of these examples but there are many more.
Neither aid nor its conditional distribution sit free from the geo-political context. Relations between many of the aid givers and recipients come laden with a history of colonialism and that taints the nature of discussion around both development and its aid flows. The heavy hand of colonial relations, continue to contaminate contemporary relations and aid conditionality is felt by many in recipient countries as neo-colonialism.
Safety of activists is another critical issue. If aid is withdrawn for the violation of LGBT rights, then LGBT activists become easily identifiable targets for retribution. It may be unintended but it is a knowable risk that donor countries or agencies take. It is also avoidable.
While the relationship between rights and development is increasingly appreciated, the appropriateness of conditionality in the promotion of rights is extremely problematic.
Pamela Nash MP, PPS to Shadow Secretary of State for International Development and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on HIV and AIDS
In recent weeks I have been watching the calendar, noting that President Museveni had until the 24th February to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill; hoping that sense would prevail and he would not accept this discriminatory legislation. Sadly he did, and invited the world’s media to witness it.
Uganda is a place close to my heart; it is home to family and friends of mine, I have been lucky enough to work there briefly as a student and visit several times since. I am deeply upset about this legislation being passed.
The Bill threatens life-sentences in jail to those who are found to have had homosexual sex (or “aggravated homosexuality”) and imprisoning those who are seen to “aid and abet” homosexuality in any way. This means it is now a criminal offence for a person not to report a family member, friend or neighbour for “homosexual behavior and related practices” and the law also appears to apply to those in authority.
Uganda’s Health Minister, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, has now claimed that this Bill will not affect the fight against HIV, and will not prevent MSM seeking testing and treatment for HIV; however I just cannot see how this can be the case. This Bill criminalises just KNOWING that someone is partaking in”homosexual behaviour and related practices” which threatens to divide or imprison families; and will leave MSM fearing to visit health professionals in case they are turned over to the authorities. They will not accept this reassurance from a Government that has just passed such a draconian law against them.
This is happening in the only African country with rising rates of new HIV infections, in marked contrast to rest of the continent.
Men who have sex with men are 13 times more likely to contract HIV than the general population. By criminalising homosexuality the Ugandan Government is putting the AIDS response in real danger.
For me, this Bill is simply a violation of the human rights of the Ugandan people. It contradicts Uganda’s Constitution, which states
” All persons are equal before and under the law in all spheres of political, economic, social and cultural life and in every other respect and shall enjoy equal protection of the law.”
Unfortunately, the LGBT community no longer has equal protection of the law, in fact they themselves are criminalised. The message being sent out is that they are worth less than the rest of the population, and this gives license for all sorts of further discrimination.
I am hugely concerned about the safety of gay people in Uganda now. There has already been a marked increase in violent attacks in the lead up to the signing of the Bill on Monday and this does not look likely to subside. Sadly there have been unconfirmed reports of someone being murdered already this week, and people are frightened for their lives.
My blood ran cold when I saw that Red Pepper, a Ugandan tabloid, has published the names of 200 people who they say are homosexual, some with photographs. Three years ago, another paper, Rolling Stone, was set up for the purpose of “outing” gay Ugandans. This inflamed violence and has been linked to the murder of David Kato, who led Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and the campaign to stop this Bill.
The UK Government has been consistently vocal in its opposition to the Bill , and must continue to voice our outrage that such a violation of human rights has been passed in 2014. The Government must also ensure that we do all we can to help the LGBT community on the ground in Uganda. They need our support more than ever before to remain safe, healthy and able to campaign against the discrimination they are facing.
Fairtrade Fortnight: Labour Councils can lead the UK’s public sector in supporting fair trade and union rights in developing countries
by Glenn Power, LCID member
International Development can start in our town halls. Fairtrade fortnight is a good time to review some sobering facts – compared to best practice in Sweden and elsewhere British public sector organisations are sadly ineffective at supporting fair trade and decent working conditions in developing countries. So far only a handful of councils have gone beyond the minimal actions necessary to achieve ‘Fairtrade town’ status; and hardly any organisations act to promote decent working conditions in the factories that make their staff clothing or ICT equipment.
LCID members can start changing this now (below is a contact who can supply you with a model policy motion to put to your council, university, NHS Trust, school or other organisation). The effort is worthwhile and necessary. Although globalisation has reduced poverty in nations like India and China, tens of millions of workers are exploited because they are replaceable and unprotected by trade unions or enforced legislation on (inadequate) minimum wages, working hours, and basic safety – due, primarily, to Western multi-nationals’ ruthless drive to cut costs.
Clothing and ICT equipment: Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza disaster underlined how shameful working conditions can be in the clothing industry, as has the recent suppression of trade unionists in Cambodia. MakeITfair research has exposed the endemic suppression of trade union rights and exploitation of temporary ‘contract’ labour in ICT equipment manufacturers, often with brand owners’ support. Combined the ICT and clothing industries employ tens of millions – particularly young women and rural migrants. Their quality of life could be radically improved for minimal cost, because brand owners’ profits are large, and wages are so low. Garment machinists, for example, only receive around 2% of a garment’s end price. The problem is the inequitable distribution of profits and power. Enabling vulnerable workers to negotiate affordable wage rises contributes to development goals as fundamental as access to education and health care, and reduces aid dependency.
Influence: Collectively the potential influence of Britain’s public sector is huge. In 2012 £648 million was spent through three central ICT equipment contracts alone – on computers, printers, and mobile phones etc. Spending on staff clothing/apparel can be significant too, especially in the NHS.
Effective policies for high risk manufactured goods: relevant contracts should require contractors and brand owning importers to uphold ILO conventions in their supply chains, by contract, evidenced by genuine factory audits. Public authorities should also reserve the right to arrange audits themselves, ideally collectively, to ILO standards, in collaboration with local NGOs or Electronics Watch – strategies that should be facilitated by DIFID under Labour along with detailed reporting. The NHS has taken some limited first steps in £multi-million contracts for surgical instruments, thanks to the BMA, as this short film illustrates.
Fair trade: catering contracts should ask for full named ranges of relevant fairly traded products in ALL (council) facilities, including school canteens and vending machines if relevant. Councils in South Wales have shown the untapped potential – there hundreds of schools are supplied with Fairtrade bananas and fruit juices as standard items, because councils asked contractors for them by name in tenders. Amazingly, most councils don’t.
What can Labour Party members do?
Ask your CLP, union, Co-op party, or council to pass a model motion. You can contact Glenn Power – 020 7515 7835 email@example.com for a fuller briefing, detailing what politicians and procurement officers need to know. It also provides resources such as tender wordings. Local authorities could also spread best practice policies to local Housing Associations, Universities, NHS organisations, and thousands of schools.
Wales and Scotland: LCID members in devolved nations could have a particularly significant impact by establishing best practice for the next Labour government to spread nationwide. But all Labour Party members can make a real contribution long before 2015, starting with our councils.
The recent floods in the South of England have helped UKIP and the Daily Mail set a debate raging across radio phone-ins about whether part of the UK’s aid budget should be used to fund the response.
There are plenty of reasons why this is a bad idea but instead of rattling through them all it is probably easier to point you to this piece in the New Statesman by Jonathan Tanner at ODI, who criticises Nigel Farage for exploiting the world’s poor two months ahead of European elections and calls on us to stick up for aid and sensible politics.
Last week the Fabian Society launched an excellent pamphlet exploring the values and strategy that could constitute Labour’s foreign policy. It is also good food for thought for the development community. Development and foreign policies will of course be made in the same context and informed by the same values. But this pamphlet demonstrates how much scope there is for shared strategy and messaging too.
While the UK context for development policy isn’t yet one of austerity, as it is now for defence and arguably foreign policy, it is certainly one in which decisions about spending have to be better justified than ever to struggling taxpayers. The increasingly tense relationship with Europe does damage to diplomacy but also detaches the UK from the world’s biggest development superpower. Broader shifts in global power towards the east are not only recasting diplomatic relationships but challenging conventional western models of development, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse.
It’s not just this context but the values that guide our response that are the same. When Malcolm Chalmers, who contributed to the pamphlet, writes about a rule-based international order, strengthened international institutions that promote social justice, the advancement of human rights and more equal growth, he is talking about values to guide global development as much as foreign policy.
The shared context and values are perhaps unsurprising. But when looking at strategy and policy, and how this is communicated, there is real scope for shared thinking too.
Take for example the renewed approach to multilateral institutions that Rachel Briggs calls for – investing more in multilateral alliances that do work, such as the Contact Group on Piracy, and investing more in local and regional bodies too. What does this mean for Labour’s development policy? Should the UK go it alone on an issue like tax and transparency where international consensus is tricky? Can we be more creative finding new international coalitions for development? Where does the Multilateral Aid Review leave us vis-à-vis our commitment to the UN and established multilateral development institutions?
Or Europe, can Labour really make the case for development without reference to the institution through which a significant proportion of our aid budget is channelled? If Labour puts Europe back at the centre of foreign policy, can we help win that argument in part through Europe’s track record on development?
If Labour looks towards a foreign policy with new partners, including the private sector, what can Labour learn from the shift that has taken place in DFID in recent years towards private sector partnerships? For Labour development policy, how do we strike the right balance between holding the private sector accountable on an issue like tax dodging, while working with the private sector on their inevitable and potentially transformative role in development?
The future of intervention is perhaps the trickiest question for Labour foreign policy. Mark Leonard thinks this won’t be a significant feature of our foreign affairs again for some time to come. But even if full-scale military interventions feel unlikely, we are every day making choices about how far to go in the affairs of other countries. What are our options in Syria if we don’t intervene? How far can we push democracy and human rights elsewhere in the Middle East, as established elites return or hold on to power? If we are serious about promoting social justice overseas, we will struggle to avoid intervention altogether. But does a softer, development-led approach make intervention easier to swallow?
Last but not least – indeed perhaps most importantly of all – there’s the question of how these strategic choices are communicated. Foreign and development policy is never going to be a vote winner; development policy arguably the opposite. But several contributors point to the lack of trust between the electorate and government on foreign policy and development, the reluctance of the public to look globally when there are problems at home, the distrust of the EU and the frustration with immigration.
It’s going to be difficult enough to persuade people that domestic issues and international issues cannot be separated, that the former cannot be solved without the right approach to the latter, and that the right approach should be a bold, values-driven internationalism. It’s going to be doubly difficult if we don’t tell a coherent story across diplomacy, defence and development.
Ultimately decisions about development policy should and will continue to be taken independently of decisions about foreign and defence policy. Poverty reduction should and will remain the first consideration – even if we also acknowledge the rewards that we reap in terms of reputation and leverage.
But as Labour works up its international strategy, and starts telling a story about the UK’s role in the world, acknowledging the synergies across diplomacy, defence and development will be crucial.
by Laura Kyrke-Smith, LCID CLP & PPC Outreach Officer
At the most recent DFID question time in Parliament, Tory MP, Nick De Bois, put it to Justine Greening that “encouraging democracy among the people is wasted when the leaders seem not to wish to practise it”. Dictators around the world would be rubbing their hands with glee at such sentiments if they were not so busy ferreting away national resources in Swiss banks.
A week later, Conservative MP, Peter Bone, slammed DFID for investing in improvements to garment factories in developing countries that supply the likes of Primark and River Island. “These companies should be improving their supply chains because it’s the right thing to do, not because they are going to get a Government grant to do it.” he puffed in the Daily Mail. Of course in principle Bone is right, companies should invest in their supply chains because it is the right thing to do, but in practice even he must know he is wide of the mark. Sadly, it is money, not ethics that drives most business, and sometimes a push is needed.
These cheap shots at DFID come from marksmen who have not bothered to think their arguments through. When taken together, investments in democracy and pro-poor business, offer the chance for sustainable improvements in welfare that some of the more traditional approaches have struggled to achieve.
Improvements for workers in foreign countries will only come via one of four routes: consumer activism, union action, legislation or external support.
As demand for throw-away fashion continues unabated, the medium term prospect of the first route, consumer activism, ending poor working conditions is limited. It takes a horrific accident, like the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory last year which killed over a thousand workers, for the public to wake up to the reality of where their goods come from. The ensuing public outrage did result in new commitments from Primark and the other high street shops that used the factory and over a million pounds worth of compensation payouts. However, as last night’s ITV expose shows, things in Bangladesh are very far from fixed and we in Britain are still merrily shopping. An approach that lasts longer than the average news cycle is sorely needed.
The union route is more promising. Indeed in October, Reuters reported that Bangladesh’s garment factory owners were pencilling in a minimum wage increase of 50 to 80 percent (and planned to ask retailers to defray the cost) in a bid to end strikes. Alison McGovern, Shadow Minister for International Development, discussed the importance of supporting unions as part of the British government’s international development work at January event at the TUC, and one would expect to see more work like this under a Labour-run DFID.
The third route, legislation, will help the raise the bar locally, so that at least within countries, factories cannot compete on the basis of taking short cuts with health and safety. Of course, it is not for DFID to make laws abroad. We could make laws in the UK to require British business to meet minimum standards in their supply chains – everyone recognises it is wrong that goods produced in death trap factories should be in our high streets – but these would be very difficult to enforce. Britain’s potential as a global human rights monitor would be stretched to its limit.
In-country work to educate workers about their rights (including their right to unionise) so that they can monitor the compliance of their own workplace is a more sustainable approach. Educated (unionised!) eyes will reach places the UK law and even UK companies are ill-equipped to find. Ultimately a better educated and organised workforce can make their own demands of their governments as well as their employers. Presumably this is the kind of democracy work the De Bois thinks is a waste of time.
The DFID grants to which Peter Bone objects represent the fourth mechanism for improving working conditions – external support. Each grant is designed to develop a model of best practise which can be replicated in other garment factories and sustained after the project finishes. The projects involve not only unions and charities but also big business hitters, such as Tesco, giving them a credibility and a scale-ability that no well-meaning NGO could match. Each grant is matched financially by the company in question. If this is what it takes to kick start sustainable improvements in garment factories, then it is money well spent.
The Daily Mail is better used to the idea of DFID funding health and education. Luckily, it is not an ‘either or’ choice. DFID has concluded that vibrant economies offer the best prospects for sustained improvements in public welfare. They are right, but with an important caveat.
As in the UK, we cannot take it for granted that the proceeds of wealth will benefit the poorest. That is why promoting democracy along-side decent work and economic development is so important. As developing country economies grow, democratic demands will drive welfare. Dictators will find it ever more difficult to put that cash in Swiss banks, because people in need of food and medicine will be banging at their doors. As DFID puts more of its money into business related projects, those on the left will need to watch it hawkishly to ensure these are truly pro-poor investments balanced with initiatives to promote democracy.
Huff puffing Tory back benchers may be content to assign the important business of development to a bizarre mix of dictators and benevolent high street shops, but those on the left aspire for better. For now at least, DFID is quietly and sensibly getting on with the job.
by Veronica Oakeshott, LCID Media Officer
Dear Friend of LCID,
LCID is pleased to begin its 2014 events programme with a discussion on issues of human rights in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In Autumn last year LCID member Melanie Ward served as a Human Rights Observer in the West Bank. For 3 months she lived and worked in Hebron, one of the most tense areas in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this event she will share and discuss experiences of life under military occupation, the humanitarian impact on the local population and the work of Israeli human rights groups.
When: 6.30pm-8pm, Tuesday 11th
Where: House of Commons, Committee Room 5 (enter via the Cromwell Green entrance)
Please note that there can be delays going through security, visitors are advised to allow extra time when arriving at parliament.
You do not have to be a member of LCID to attend this event but you will be able to sign up on the evening. You can also join as a member here.
We look forward to seeing you there!