Anti-gay laws in Africa tarnish Europe relations


MEPs have passed a resolution calling on the European Commission and European member states to sanction Nigeria and Uganda for criminalising homosexuality. reports.

As the summit between Africa and the EU on 2 and 3 April approaches, recent legislation banning homosexuality in Uganda and Nigeria will be under scrutiny.

MEPs from all political parties have passed a resolution calling on the EU to reassess its relations with the two countries, and suspend development aid to both governments.

The MEPs claimed that the European Commission must “urgently begin a strong political dialogue at the latest during the EU-Africa summit”. The only sanctions demanded by the parliamentarians target those behind the new laws.

International Pressure

Other demands include “reorienting aid towards civil society and other organisation as opposed to its suspension.” A request has already been followed up by the European Commission, which suspended part of its aid to Uganda. This was carried out by freezing a payment of €24.9 million, until the Ugandan government showed signs of moderation on gay rights.

Many countries have already reacted individually on the aid budget front, including the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, the US and even Norway, who decided to suspend direct aid payments to the Ugandan government, and direct it instead towards supporting civil society organisations.

In Nigeria, pressure exerted by Brussels is much weaker, as the Nigerian government does not receive development aid from the EU.

Putting both countries on equal footing is also difficult. Uganda, a former British colony, is one of the least developed countries in the world and relies heavily on international aid. With almost €2.3 billion of annual public development aid, Uganda is one of the most financially supported states in Africa.

On the contrary, Nigeria has a population of 169 million inhabitants and enjoys high economic growth. This makes it one of Africa's economic success stories, despite its persistently high levels of poverty.

Political dialogue

Due to the increased status of the EU-Africa summit, a meeting between Uganda and the EU, on human rights issues, has been agreed for 28 March. A meeting is also planned with Nigeria, but the date has not yet been confirmed.

“In Uganda the problem of not respecting individual liberties and human rights goes beyond respecting the rights of LGBT people (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transexual)” explained a diplomat in Brussels. The Commission claims that “financial aid to Uganda must be reviewed.”

Cotonou Agreement up in the air

If dialogue fails, MEPs will “demand that the commission suspend the Cotonou Agreement in relation to Uganda and Nigeria”, in accordance with article 96 of the agreement, which allows the temporary suspension of aid if a state fails to defend human rights.

A Commission spokesperson explained that “the outcome of these meetings will have great importance in terms of the evolving relations between the EU and the two countries". This statement highlights the premature nature of turning to article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement.

And for good reason: the EU-Africa summit will mostly be dedicated to renegotiating economic agreements between the EU and ACP countries (African, Caribbean and Pacific group of states) which has not made headway for years. Indeed, the new Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) are about to get going.

The new EPAs are negotiated between the EU and African regions, not bilaterally. The temporary exclusion of two signatory countries could cause the negotiations to quickly fall into disarray.

Widespread in Africa

The two African countries targeted by the EU are not the only ones to have passed new legislation criminalising homosexuality. In a recent report, Amnesty International claims that during the past five years, South Sudan and Burundi have passed laws making relationships between those of the same sex a criminal offense. It also highlights the fact that recent legislation in the Liberian parliament aims to increase existing sanctions.

According to the MEP's resolution, 76 countries still consider homosexuality a crime, five of which have recourse to the death penalty. In 2013, Amnesty International published a report on the criminalisation of same sex relations in sub-Saharan Africa. In the report, it claimed that homosexuality is currently a criminal offence in 38 sub-Saharan countries.

The Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act was passed by the Parliament of Uganda on 20 December 2013 with the death penalty proposal dropped in favour of life in prison. The law was signed into law by the president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, on 24 February 2014.

The legislative proposal would broaden the criminalisation of same-sex relations in Uganda domestically, and further includes provisions for Ugandans who engage in same-sex relations outside of Uganda, asserting that they may be extradited for punishment back in Uganda, and includes penalties for individuals, companies, media organisations, or non-governmental organisations that know of gay people or support LGBT rights.

  • 2 -3 April 2014: EU-Africa Summit in Brussels

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