That may be too much to hope, since he has regularly made homophobic remarks, including last month calling LGBT people “deviants.” Also, this draconian bill passed to applause and cheers in the legislative chamber, with all but two of the 389 lawmakers at the session in favor.
Sadly, Uganda is not an outlier in Africa, posing a challenge for President Biden and other Western leaders as they seek to engage with countries on the continent — and keep them from joining China’s orbit.
Uganda’s 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Bill would not only make it illegal to identify as gay, punishable by prison time, it would also place a duty on friends and family members to report anyone in a same-sex relationship. Journalists and media outlets found to publish or broadcast supposed gay content could be prosecuted. Funding for any LGBT-related activities would be outlawed. And anyone found engaging in “aggravated homosexuality,” defined as abusing children or vulnerable people, would be subject to the death penalty.
Gay sex is already illegal in Uganda, but this bill ups the ante. Even before this terrible bill has been signed into law, there are reports that LGBT people have gone into hiding.
Sadly, while this bill is extreme, Uganda is hardly alone in its anti-LGBT posture. Of the 64 or so countries that still criminalize same-sex relationships, at least half — at least 32 by most counts — are in Africa. While generally the world is moving toward more acceptance on LGBT rights, Africa forms a near-unanimous block of intolerance. A core group of African states nearly derailed the appointment and renewal of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Near, but not unanimous. South Africa, which held its first Pride march in 1990, became the first country on the continent to legalize same-sex marriages. Five other countries have recently decriminalized same-sex relationships: Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Lesotho and Seychelles.
Yet those countries are the exceptions. Instead of advancing, many more are following Uganda’s lead and moving to toughen restrictions on the LGBT community.
The Spartacus Blog’s regular Gay Travel Index, which advises LGBT vacationers on the best places to enjoy themselves and where to avoid, lists only South Africa and the French island of Reunion as secure destinations in Africa for gay travelers. The worst-ranked countries are Niger, Mali, Lesotho, Cape Verde and Botswana. In four countries, Nigeria, Mauritania, Somalia and South Sudan, being gay is punishable by death.
Ihar Losik, one of hundreds of young people unjustly jailed in Belarus for opposing Alexander Lukashenko’s dictatorship, attempted suicide but was saved and sent to a prison medical unit, according to the human rights group Viasna. Losik, 30, a blogger who led a popular Telegram channel, was arrested in 2020 and is serving a 15-year prison term on charges of “organizing riots” and “incitement to hatred.” His wife is also a political prisoner. Read more about their struggle — and those of other political prisoners — in a recent editorial.
The Department of Homeland Security has provided details of a plan to prevent a migrant surge along the southern border. The administration would presumptively deny asylum to migrants who failed to seek it in a third country en route — unless they face “an extreme and imminent threat” of rape, kidnapping, torture or murder. Critics allege that this is akin to an illegal Trump-era policy. In fact, President Biden is acting lawfully in response to what was fast becoming an unmanageable flow at the border. Read our most recent editorial on the U.S. asylum system.
Some 222 Nicaraguan political prisoners left that Central American country for the United States in February. President Daniel Ortega released and sent them into exile in a single motion. Nevertheless, it appears that Mr. Ortega let them go under pressure from economic sanctions the United States imposed on his regime when he launched a wave of repression in 2018. The Biden administration should keep the pressure on. Read recent editorials about the situation in Nicaragua.
Inflation remains stubbornly high at 6.4 percent in January. The Federal Reserve’s job is not done in this fight. More interest rate hikes are needed. Read a recent editorial about inflation and the Fed.
Afghanistan’s rulers had promised that barring women from universities was only temporary. But private universities got a letter on Jan. 28 warning them that women are prohibited from taking university entrance examinations. Afghanistan has 140 private universities across 24 provinces, with around 200,000 students. Out of those, some 60,000 to 70,000 are women, the AP reports. Read a recent editorial on women’s rights in Afghanistan.
A new study finds that half the world’s mountain glaciers and ice caps will melt even if global warming is restrained to 1.5 degrees Celsius — which it won’t be. This would feed sea-level rise and imperil water sources for hundreds of millions. Read a recent editorial on how to cope with rising seas, and another on the policies needed to fight climate change.
Beyond the denial of human rights and dignity, the continent’s widespread homophobia, too often enshrined in law and repeatedly upheld by the courts, leads to violence. Egyptian security forces in recent years have been accused by human rights organizations of detaining and torturing LGBT people. Rwandan authorities reportedly detained LGBT people in the lead-up to the 2021 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, saying they did not represent “Rwandan values.” Gay people in Nigeria are regularly arrested.
Vice President Harris, on her recent three-nation trip to the continent, rightly talked about the need for African countries to ensure “all people be treated equally.” She spoke first in Ghana, where the parliament is considering a bill almost as bad as Uganda’s that would imprison people who identify as gay and make it a crime to advocate for LGBT rights. Harris said she raised the issue of human rights in private talks with President Nana Akufo-Addo. But in remarks to reporters she was careful not to directly address the bill, likely mindful of avoiding a domestic political issue.
But even that “quiet diplomacy” approach provoked fierce criticism. The Biden administration’s advocacy of LGBT rights is likely to come across as another example of the United States lecturing Africa and not listening.
In its overtures to Africa, the Biden administration is trying to counter the growing influence of China, and to a lesser extent Russia, on the continent. But China under President Xi Jinping and Russia under President Vladimir Putin have both taken a more conservative, backward turn on LGBT rights, trying to depict homosexuality as another example of a decadent West in decline. That message is likely to find resonance in Africa. U.S. evangelical religious groups operating on the continent are also reportedly pushing homophobic views.
All this poses a difficult challenge for U.S. policymakers. Trying to aid gay rights might seem to confirm African suspicions that the United States is a fickle and unreliable partner, particularly as China and Russia attach no such conditions to their assistance.
The best approach is to emphasize that LGBT rights are human rights and to showcase those countries, such as South Africa, that have taken a different path. Biden has announced plans to make his first visit to the continent as president this year. He should not reward countries with abysmal records on LGBT rights with a presidential visit. In the face of such blatant discrimination, staying silent is not an option.
Source: The Washington Post