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Uganda: LGBT People

Volume 831: debated on Wednesday 5 July 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they will take in response to the recently announced measures of discrimination against LGBT people in Uganda.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and I declare my interest as an ambassador for UNAIDS.

My Lords, the UK is appalled by the Government of Uganda’s decision on 26 May to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law. We have made this clear to all levels of the Ugandan Government and continue to do so. This Act will have an impact on the UK-Uganda relationship. It undermines the protections and freedoms of all Ugandans, enshrined in the Ugandan constitution. It will increase the risk of violence, discrimination and persecution, and it will set back the fight against HIV and AIDS.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply—I agree with every word. Is it not a fact that the Anti-Homosexuality Act passed by the Uganda Government opens the way to penal action against homosexuality for no reason other than that a person is homosexual? Franky, it is one of the most evil laws that has ever been passed. Surely the question for the Government here is what we can do about it. I put it to the Minister that, first, we should give all support to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury in his efforts to counter the deeply prejudicial propaganda put forward by some other religious leaders. Secondly, rather than cutting back aid, we should provide extra assistance for civil society organisations combating the discrimination that is now so widespread in Uganda and is doing so much harm and damage.

I agree entirely with the noble Lord, whom I commend for his work on AIDS and the like. He is right: the Act is one of the most regressive pieces of modern legislation against the LGBT+ community in the world. Consensual same-sex sexual acts carry a sentence of life imprisonment. I entirely agree with the noble Lord’s remarks about the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who I believe wrote to the Archbishop of Uganda, Stephen Kaziimba, to express his grief and dismay at the Church of Uganda’s support for the Bill and was subsequently criticised for doing so. Kaziimba went on to describe the Archbishop as being ill informed. Our ODA efforts in Uganda are primarily to drive clean, green and inclusive growth and mutual prosperity but also to improve the resilience, and defend the rights, of vulnerable people. I very much hope that they will continue to pursue those objectives.

My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register and I welcome the response thus far from the Minister. However, the assurance I seek from—

My Lords, I sense that the House would like me to continue. I seek assurances from the Minister that our high commission is in contact with and supporting Sexual Minorities Uganda, particularly Dr Frank Mugisha, its executive director, and other human rights defenders. Although this is not his department, can the Minister look into and ensure that the FCDO is not funding organisations that are campaigning across that part of Africa to remove LGBT rights? Given the debate on, and the amendment we recently passed to, the Illegal Migration Bill, will he and the Home Office ensure safe and legal routes for LGBT+ people and their human rights defenders?

Again, the noble Lord raises some very good points. He will not be surprised to know that I do not know the precise answers on the organisations funded by the FCDO, but I will take that back and look into it. I can confirm that the high commissioner continues to meet a wide range of stakeholders, across both the Government and elsewhere, to express the UK’s concerns. The subject of safe and legal routes will come up later, but I hear what the noble Lord said.

My Lords, I am glad to have heard the previous question; I am sure that it should have had precedence over mine. I intended to add how glad I am that this situation is affecting Uganda-UK relations, and my noble friend the Minister has outlined some of the ways in which it is doing so. Would he not agree that it also affects Commonwealth relations? Is it not essential to ensure that the Commonwealth’s opinions on these matters are directed to put Uganda under pressure? That is whole point of being in the Commonwealth in the first place. Will he ensure that Marlborough House is also aware of this— I think that it is—and that it is putting pressure on Uganda, both behind and in front of the scenes, to mend its ways?

I agree with my noble friend. The UK continues to work with other Commonwealth member states and civil society partners to reform outdated laws of this type and to end discrimination and violence against LGBT+ people. We have discussed this situation with the Commonwealth Secretary-General. The UK also provides funds to support the promotion and protection of LGBT+ rights across the Commonwealth, and at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2022, the UK announced more money to support organisations such as the Commonwealth Equality Network. My noble friend is right that Commonwealth relationships will be of extreme importance in this matter.

My Lords, this horrible legislation is the result of a decades-long campaign by Christian nationalist organisations in the USA and Russia. Uganda is but one target country; there are many others. Will the UK Government ensure that civil society organisations, the NHS and academics work with people in Uganda to ensure that the devastation to the public health and economy of Uganda is properly and fully documented?

The noble Baroness raises very good points on those subjects. I will go into a little more detail on public health. At the moment, Uganda has approximately 1.4 million people living with HIV and AIDS. Every year, 54,000 Ugandans are infected, including 6,000 newborns. I am not an expert on the religious dimensions to this law that the noble Baroness cited, but I know that the UK has cut off some funds to certain interreligious councils that have supported this legislation.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reference to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury’s letter to the Archbishop of Uganda, and for hearing us, as Bishops, say how much we deplore what has been decided by the Archbishop of Uganda in support of this ignoble law. In the light of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop’s intervention, and all that has been said about engaging with civil society, will the FCDO engage with the Archbishop’s office and make use of the Church’s contacts to offset some of the very conservative religious engagement from other countries in Uganda and engage with people on the ground in Uganda to seek to change this abhorrent law?

I thank the right reverend Prelate for his question and once again pay tribute to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for his letter to the archbishop in Uganda. This subject has come up before and of course I am more than happy to take back to the Foreign Office the suggestion that it should continue to work with the Church and other interfaith groups which have an interest in this subject.

My Lords, I very much welcome the Prime Minister’s direct intervention with the President of Uganda. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, pointed out, what will really result in change is the international community coming together. Can the Minister tell us what the Prime Minister has done to contact President Biden to ensure that the US action is matched by our action and that we build an international coalition to stop this terrible Act?

I completely agree with the noble Lord that there needs to be international co-operation. So far, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the EU have all issued separate statements in response to the Act. The noble Lord is right to raise the subject of the US President. Both he and the Secretary of State have issued statements in response to the Act, and the US has actually gone a little further. Our principal concern with that is that the Ugandans reacted very predictably to the US actions, and we are still very keen to make sure that our aid and our ODA get to the people who need it the most. However, I hear what the noble Lord said, and I will certainly take it back.

My Lords, I declare my interest as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Uganda and as someone who was born in Uganda. This Act is a grave assault on the human rights and the constitution of Uganda, as well as on international human rights laws that Uganda signed up to. In my role as a trade envoy, I find many UK companies now unwilling to invest in Uganda and looking elsewhere. The Bill harms not only the LGBT community in Uganda but the country as a whole. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that it will impact not only the LGBT community but the economic prosperity of Uganda?

I am more than happy to agree with my noble friend. The UK Government are obviously aware of the concerns raised by the business community and other organisations about the Act. We advise all to carefully consider the impact of the Act on their staff and operations and seek legal advice as appropriate. The Act will undermine Uganda’s development and economic goals and will create a barrier for international investment and tourism, as my noble friend has highlighted.