Comment: The UK Government must stand up for LGBT Ugandans

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Shadow Foreign Minister Kerry McCarthy has written to the UK’s Minister for Africa, James Duddridge, urging for a stronger stance against the Ugandan Government’s support for anti-gay laws.

The news that the Ugandan courts have annulled the Anti-Homosexuality Act is very welcome, however, it does not change the fact that there was a concerted effort to pass the legislation for many years, nor that President Museveni decided to sign the bill into law.

Additionally, I understand that the law was annulled because the Parliament was not quorate, rather than on a point of principle in support of equality and human rights.

I am, therefore, deeply concerned that within the Ugandan Government and members of the public, there is still not necessarily an acceptance of LGBT rights, and that the climate of fear and prejudice promoted by the bill may not necessarily abate. Reports also indicate that the government is yet to make a decision on whether to appeal against the verdict, so this may be an option they are considering.

I would be grateful for assurance that UK will work with our EU and Commonwealth partners to tackle discrimination against LGBT people. You will know that, in response to the act’s passage, the US administration restricted access to the USA, re-directed health care support, ended support for a community policing project and cancelled a military aviation exercise.

The Foreign Office, however, has so far resisted pressure to impose similar travel bans and sanctions on the basis that there is disagreement amongst NGOs on the potential impact of such measures. I would appreciate further information on how the FCO is working with civil society groups in Uganda to protect LGBT people, their rights and their access to healthcare, and on what advice you have received against imposing sanctions.

I am, for instance, aware that there has been strong support for a more robust approach from organisations like the Human Dignity Trust, which works closely with Sexual Minorities Uganda.

In light of the concerns that the response from the UK and the EU has been muted, I would be grateful if you could confirm that the UK Government will be making representations to discourage an appeal and in support of a fundamental reconsideration of the Ugandan Government’s previous disregard for LGBT rights, the Commonwealth Charter and international law.

In addition to the disturbing reports of increased persecution suffered by the LGBT community since the act was passed, research from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch indicates that people have been arrested under the act, so I would be grateful if you could confirm whether the FCO is seeking clarification as to the status and safety of those arrested under the now-annulled law

Kerry McCarthy is Labour’s Shadow Foreign and Commonwealth Minister for Human Rights and the Member of Parliament for Bristol East.

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