Wales must never stay silent on human rights abuses

Steve Brooks outlines his shock at the First Minister’s visit to Uganda following the publication, last year, of an Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Many people in Wales are watching the events unfolding in Uganda, and the First Minister’s response – or lack of response – with sadness and disbelief.  The Ugandan parliament last year passed an Anti-Homosexuality Bill.  Ugandans engaged in ‘aggravated homosexuality’ or, as we’d say in Wales, ‘being gay’, face up to 14 years imprisonment.  Constitutionally, the Ugandan president can strike down the Bill, but few expect him to do so.  Presidential consent could come anytime soon.

For years in Uganda, and across Africa; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have been subjected to physical violence, torture and death on an unimaginable scale.  The international community has been shamefully slow to address these atrocities; looking the other way and staying silent.   Thankfully, under Ban Ki-moon the United Nations is now taking action and showing leadership.  The Secretary General has said that LGBT rights are central to the United Nation’s mission.  He rightly recognises that without human rights, citizens of the world cannot fully enjoy full social and economic rights.  Put another way, human rights and social justice are two sides of the same coin.

Carwyn’s record on this is strong.  It’s been nearly a decade since Make Poverty History, a year-long campaign that successfully put debt relief, trade justice and aid on the international agenda.  Carwyn Jones, along with Rhodri Morgan and Jane Davidson were instrumental in establishing the ‘Wales for Africa’ programme, the Welsh Government’s international development initiative that has provided the catalyst for hundreds of projects across Wales all aimed at alleviating poverty in the developing world.

Carwyn visited Ghana with Oxfam, and witnessed first-hand the impact rigged-rules on global trade were having on farmers and families.  When I hosted the Wales-launch of Duncan Green’s book From Poverty to Power, I heard Carwyn speak passionately about how human rights and good governance were fundamental to overcoming poverty.

Carwyn gets it and is passionate about it.  Which is way many in Wales cannot comprehend this week’s events.  There is no denying he is right to use his position to promote the good work of the Pontypridd-based PONT programme, which has transformed lives in the Mbale region of Uganda; but why now?  It is wrong for a senior UK politician to visit another country in this way, at a time when it is passing legislation that will enshrine state-sanctioned human rights abuses.  The weak statement issued by the Welsh Government, and the response of officials, betrays the First Minister’s commitment to equality and human rights.  In it, the government states that “no one should be denied opportunities because of their sexual orientation” adding that government is “committed to ensuring equal treatment for everyone in Wales” and concluding that projects like PONT’s “play an important role in encouraging tolerance and understanding”.

LGBT people in Wales and Uganda don’t want ‘tolerance’ and ‘understanding’: we want equal rights in law, as promised by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.  Today, like yesterday and like tomorrow; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will be wounded, maimed and murdered in Uganda because of who they are.  Carwyn has just hours to speak out.  He should hear the calls from Stonewall Cymru, Plaid Pride, and most importantly, the Labour movement in Wales he leads including Ann Jones AM, LGBT Labour and many prospective candidates.

Ban Ki-moon speaks of the silence in the halls of power, and commits himself to raising his voice.

Let’s hear Carwyn’s too.

Steve Brooks is a member of LGBT Labour, a former Head of Oxfam Cymru and writes in a personal capacity. He Tweets from @stephenbrooksUK

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