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Uganda: LGBT People

Volume 755: debated on Wednesday 23 July 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they propose to take over the abuse of the human rights of LGBT people in Uganda as a result of the passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act there.

My Lords, we continue to press Uganda to defend human rights without discrimination on any grounds. The safety of LGBT individuals in Uganda is of great concern. We have sought assurances about their protection and, with our support, EU Heads of Mission in Kampala have initiated strengthened political dialogue. We are committed to engaging closely with civil society groups and are stepping up our support to organisations that protect minority rights.

I know my noble friend understands the deep concern that exists on this matter, in both this House and the other place, and I thank her for it. What progress, if any, are the Government making in their efforts to persuade the Ugandan authorities to repeal this terrible law which infringes some of the most fundamental human rights? Will the Government reconsider urgently their decision not to impose carefully targeted sanctions on those responsible for this appalling law?

My noble friend raised this issue when the Anti-Homosexuality Act was passed in Uganda. We have deep concerns about that Act and the then Foreign Secretary, William Hague, raised these in a Statement at the time. Noble Lords will be aware that the Act criminalises the promotion of homosexuality, the owning of property where homosexuality may take place and a range of other actions which raise huge concern about how the LGBT community can be protected. With regard to sanctions, we keep all matters under review. However, it is important that whatever action we take, including sanctions, actually has a real impact. At the moment, there is a difference of opinion, even among LGBT NGO groups, about whether sanctions would have the desired effect.

My Lords, I apologise for my excess of enthusiasm. Does the noble Baroness agree that we diminish our international reputation on all matters concerned with human rights when we constantly denigrate the European Court of Human Rights, when we constantly criticise the European Convention on Human Rights and when we sack an Attorney-General because of his support for those two things?

I get the distinct impression that maybe I am not needed any more. The noble Lord raises an important issue and it is one that I have raised at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. As the Minister with responsibility for human rights I have said consistently that the way in which we conduct ourselves nationally impacts on our international reputation. What we do internationally will impact on who we are as a domestic nation. Therefore, the noble Lord does make an important point. I would stress to him that, certainly, the Government take the issue of human rights incredibly seriously. It is a huge part of my brief and he will see the commitment in the work that the Government do.

My Lords, I apologise to the Minister for my enthusiasm. I have not asked a question in this House before so I wanted to get on with it. The Minister will be aware that the most reverend Primates the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York wrote to the President of Uganda in January to reiterate a statement made by all the Primates of the Anglican Communion, in which they said:

“The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us”.

In that spirit, do the Government intend to provide asylum to those who are fleeing the worrying consequences of this law which enshrines such diminishment?

We have an eager House today.

We take our responsibilities in relation to people who come to this country to apply for political asylum very seriously, which is something that we should be proud of. I think that the right reverend Prelate would accept that it would not be possible for us to offer asylum to anybody who has been suffering persecution on the basis of sexuality, gender, race or religion around the world. Therefore, the approach of successive Governments has always been to work with the country to ensure that the country itself protects those citizens. There is some hope. The Ugandan Government made a statement on 7 July reiterating their commitment to the rights of individuals and to ensuring that minority communities had access to healthcare, NGOs and civil society organisations. It is important that we ensure that the Ugandan Government stick to those commitments they have made.

My Lords, I must apologise to the Minister for trying to answer questions for her. Does she not agree that the Commonwealth is the right forum in which to discuss such issues, particularly as we have all signed the Commonwealth charter committing us to certain values and principles? Is that not what the Commonwealth is for?

I am a supporter of the Commonwealth, as are noble Lords across this House. We are all realistic enough to acknowledge that despite the Commonwealth charter, which was supposed to be a watershed moment, there are numerous Commonwealth countries that do not live by that charter, including in their approach towards LGBT communities. It is, therefore, important that we use the Commonwealth as a vehicle but that we use all other vehicles available to us to ensure that these rights are protected.

Is my noble friend aware that President Barack Obama has described Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act as odious, and that in June the US Government announced sanctions against Ugandans involved in human rights abuses? There has also been a shift in funding from the Ugandan health ministry to alternative organisations. Will our Government reconsider and follow the lead of the Americans?

I am aware that the United States reviewed its position after the passing of the Act in June this year. They brought forward a number of proposals, including ceasing support for certain programmes, redirecting healthcare funding and reallocating funding for a public health institute. That is the approach taken by the United States. I come back to this: LGBT campaigners say that different approaches work in different places. It is important that whatever we choose to do, we do it in a way that is in line with the campaigning that is going on, is effective and actually works on the ground.

My Lords, homosexuality has been criminalised in Uganda since British colonial rule and that position, regrettably, has been reflected in 42 out of the 53 Commonwealth countries. However, this new Act has unleashed a new wave of extreme and violent homophobia, including physical attacks, arbitrary arrests, blackmail and evictions. People’s lives are at risk now. I ask the Minister to reconsider her position in these unique circumstances. If the United States can act now so should we.

We need to challenge the culture change that this Act has led to on the ground. Countries in the West have an additional responsibility because there is a real concern in Africa at the moment that much of the radicalisation and preaching that creates the culture that leads to this hatred and consequences for LGBT communities is coming from preachers who come from the West. There is a job we can do in our countries to make sure that we do not perpetuate this.