Minister confirms UK will redirect aid, not cut it, for human rights violations

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The government has confirmed plans to redirect aid away from overseas governments who fail to recognise human rights, but has said it will still ensure aid reaches those in need.

Some African states reacted angrily to Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell’s comments that aid would be redirected away from governments to other bodies, believing that overall aid would be cut unless anti-gay laws were repealed.

In October, he said: “Taking money away from Governments does not mean you do not support that country. You find other mechanisms for trying to help the poorest with food, education and health care as well as building up business structures.”

Several Commonwealth governments condemned the action as an attempt to influence domestic policy and introduce gay rights against countries’ wishes.

Mitchell made the statement to a meeting at which Peter Tatchell, the Kaleidoscope Trust, Stonewall, Justice for Gay Africans and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance were present.

He said the government’s position had been wrongly reported as a threat to cut aid or to single out LGBT rights as a condition for aid.

The Kaleidoscope Trust had presented the minister with reports by African social activists and the Coalition Against Homophobia in Ghana, both of which pointed to fears of a ‘backlash’ against LGBT people.

Lance Price, Director of the Kaleidoscope Trust, said: “Andrew Mitchell clearly understands the importance of setting LGBT rights into a wider context and of avoiding any risk of harm to those that British policy is designed to help.

“We are fortunate to have a government that takes these issues seriously and is prepared to speak out when necessary.

“We look forward to working with ministers to help ensure that the views of LGBT people in countries that receive UK aid are properly taken into account and that the consequences and potential benefits of policy changes are effectively explained.”

Peter Tatchell said: “The commitment of the UK government to global human rights, including LGBTI rights, is welcome and commendable. I am pleased to hear that no cuts in aid are planned.

“Although human rights abuses are unacceptable and violate international humanitarian law, any reduction in aid would penalise the poorest, most vulnerable people in developing countries. Many are dependent on aid for basic needs like food, clean water, health care and education. They should not be made to suffer because of human rights abuses by their governments.

“I look forward to Andrew Mitchell and David Cameron making high profile public statements in the coming weeks to refute the misreporting of government aid policy and to counteract the negative anti-LGBTI backlash that this misreporting has generated in some African countries.

“Perceptions are important. It is very damaging to LGBTI communities in developing countries if cuts in vital aid are associated with LGBTI people and western demands for LGBTI equality. This inflames homophobia.”

15 African states in the Commonwealth criminalise homosexual acts, with many more in Asia, Oceania and the Americas also treating them as illegal.