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

9 thoughts on “Wales must never stay silent on human rights abuses

  1. 2 things:

    1) I’m uncomfortable with you calling our First Minister “Carwyn”, like he’s a mate down the pub. People usually don’t write articles/blogs talking about ‘David’, ‘Nick’ and ‘Ed’ do they? Maybe that’s just my gripe though.

    2) I agree it’s rather odd that the FM has gone to Uganda. However, I have no problems with him visiting worthy causes, no matter the country. He is seeing how aid is helping women go to school. That is a good cause and I see no reason why he should boycott it. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill is grotesque. But who is he meant to be raising it with exactly if he’s only visiting villages to look at aid projects?

  2. I do agree with the sentiments and intention behind the article – particularly as an LGBT activist myself, who has worked in Uganda. But I think it’s really important to be mindful that the intent could backfire horribly on the Ugandan LGBT movement at this critical time.

    The Anti-LGBT lobby behind the Bill in Uganda are focused on portraying LGBT rights as a ‘European imposed immorality’. If Carwyn were to speak out publicly and forcefully on it during his visit (as a European leader of their most directly ex-colonial nation), it would give them precisely the ammunition the Anti-Lobby need to force President Museveni’s hand to sign the Bill into legisation.

    I don’t think there is any doubt given Carwyn’s personal record on the issue that he will raise the Bill in discussions with appropriate officials / groups. But pushing him to do so publicly, could have disastrous consequences if it is then used by Ugandan media and right-wing MPs to demonstrate the exact point they have been promoting throughout their nasty campaign, especially if they use it a symbolic ‘lever’. It would be tragic if Wales’ leader went in Ugandan history as the catalyst for legalising the discrimination we so abhor.

    Let’s give Carwyn the space to carefully deploy his diplomatic skills on the issue through his visit; and perhaps some long-term solidarity linking between the Wales and Ugandan LGBT movements, could be a great positive that could emerge beyond just this week’s headlines.

  3. I cannot agree with the points raised by Craig Owen above. When in history has staying publicly silent on an issue like this ever achieved anything? Apartheid for instance.

    If you are saying Carwyn Jones’ commenting at this time could backfire then why is he visiting NOW? Many other world leaders and business leaders are condemning the actions of Ugandan MPs.

    Let’s not forget Mr Jones is Wales’ representative so of course when he is travelling abroad he should be promoting Wales’ values and morals.

    I personally have been torn on whether he should actually go or not. David Cameron was condemned by many for visiting Sri Lanka but he persuaded me it was the right thing to do when he hit the issue of the treatment of the Tamil community head on. However, with a Bill sitting on the Ugandan President’s desk Carwyn Jones should use any platform he has to condemn this vile violation of human rights.

  4. In response to Craig’s comment, I have to fundamentally disagree. This isn’t just a public debate about whether or not LGBT people should have human rights. Right now in Uganda, LGBT people are being subjected to abuse and physical violence on a scale that is probably impossible for most of us in Wales to imagine.

    Every ‘Western’ government has released a form of words that accepts Uganda sovereignty but rejects this legislation. UK Foreign Office minister Hugh Robertson issued a statement on 20 December 2013, stating that the UK has and “will continue to raise our concerns” with the Ugandan authorities. By speaking out, the Welsh Government would be entirely consistent with British foreign policy. Proponents of the Bill are not seeking additional ammunition, and the First Minister re-asserting UK policy would not provide it.

    I would also urge caution on labeling the Bill’s proponents as right-wing. Benson Obua Ogwal, a left-wing MP said when the Bill was passed it was a “good day for all Ugandans”. There is nothing left-wing or right-wing about human rights. Human rights are fundamental and universal.

    The timing is, fundamentally ill-judged, coming less than three weeks after the law was passed by the Ugandan Parliament. If it were the case that the First Minister felt he could not speak out (which I reject), then the trip should have been postponed to a more suitable time. To go and say nothing still sends a signal. And it’s a signal I’m confident most people in Wales don’t want to send.

  5. There is no reason he couldn’t have brought it up. So Wales can pump money into Uganda but then can’t have a say on a piece of disgusting legislation like the AHB? Gay people are ALREADY in grave danger there. This is a wasted opportunity for someone in power, giving THEM money to say “this isn’t on”. Very disappointing.

  6. In response to Lloyd. My understanding is that Welsh Government is not giving money to Ugandan Government but to civil society organisations in Wales and Uganda who are working together.

  7. In response to Craig’s comment, I think your suggestion of developing long-term solidarity links between Wales’ and Uganda’s LGBT movements is a very good one. But although it is a well-considered response, I’m concerned about the implications of much of what you suggest.

    Of course those of us who are urging the First Minister to speak up for the human rights of LGBT Ugandans understand the extremely delicate timing of his visit, and understand the risks that the Anti-Lobby might find in any intervention “the ammunition they… need to force President Museveni’s hand to sign the Bill.” This is exactly why my group – Plaid Pride – was so stunned to learn last Friday afternoon that the First Minister was planning to go in the first place; such that we put out a statement first thing Saturday morning urging him to reconsider his visit. We understand and appreciate that a huge amount of work will have gone into planning the visit by Wales Africa Community Links, charities and others in the Welsh Government; and that the community projects in question are hugely important to both our countries. But this groundwork in preparing a visit could have been picked up again in the future had the First Minister postponed his trip after learning of the passage of the bill on December 20.

    With respect to the manner of speaking out, of course he shouldn’t be lecturing or insulting the Ugandan people on his visit; interventions in foreign affairs should always be done sensitively and through the appropriate channels (and no one to my knowledge has suggested otherwise). But despite your belief that “I don’t think there is any doubt” that he will speak up for human rights, his office has given no indication that he will do this: in fact quite the opposite from their statement this week. And herein lies the problem.

    Whether or not he directly meets with senior Ugandan government officials, the problem is that by *not* speaking up, he risks being misinterpreted by the Ugandan government that his visit signals “business as usual” – that there may be no consequences internationally if the law goes ahead. Richard Branson and others have apparently been vilified in Uganda for their outspoken stance on this – but international opinion is very often an important influence on government policies in all countries, and there is not a uniform opinion in the Ugandan cabinet on this issue. Moreover, the First Minister’s silence risks undermining the work of LGBT groups worldwide that are doing so much to raise awareness and support activists like Frank Mugisha who is asking for the international community to bring attention to this horrendous bill.

    Given the extreme sensitivity of the situation as you identify, alarm bells should have been ringing in the Welsh Government after the passage of the bill on December 20, especially if they are monitoring the situation as closely as they say they are. But instead we have no acknowledgement from the First Minister of the magnitude of the human rights situation and statements released by his office this week that seem completely desensitised to the incredible severity of this bill. If he felt unable to speak out on a bill that has attracted such international condemnation he should not have gone ahead with his visit at this particular time. There are consequences of doing nothing as well as of speaking out, and this is one of those times when the LGBT community in Uganda needs allies more than ever.

  8. This man is quite right,Wales should not permit Human right’s abuses!!
    Lets start with Welsh Children they are being abused by the Assembly,How wrong it is to give them a poor start in life.Better the Assembly leader tries to learn a little more about giving Welsh Youth a good Education,rather than offend his Uganda friends by giving lectures on less important matters.

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