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The EU Backing Off Africa’s Treatment of LGBTs Could Cost Lives

The EU Backing Off Africa’s Treatment of LGBTs Could Cost Lives

A top EU official has said that the EU must stop lecturing African nations on “cultural” issues like LGBT rights, implying that it is harming the EU’s influence in the region.

Nick Westcott, the managing director for Africa in the EU’s diplomatic service and the EU’s most senior official on EU/Africa relations, is quoted by the EUobserver as saying at a debate on October 2 that the EU must stop lecturing on “cultural issues” like LGBT rights:

It should be “less apologetic about our financial clout and, secondly … more humble on the cultural issues.”

Elaborating on what he meant by “cultural issues,” Westcott added: “We can lecture about lesbian, gays and bisexuals until the cows come home. And it will have a wholly counterproductive effect on our usefulness in Africa. We need to focus on fundamental values.”

Westcott reportedly went on to say during this debate on Europe’s waning foreign influence that the EU still has “tremendous influence in Africa,” given its strong trading relationship and aid programs, and that this must be preserved.

Westcott’s words may raise particular concern for international LGBT rights groups, and for a number of reasons.

The EU’s influence has been instrumental in curtailing several attacks on the LGBT community in Africa and most notably its strong reaction against Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009. With the threat of ending international aid and the endangering of trade relationships, Uganda’s lawmakers saw fit to go slow on the bill. Even now the bill remains a threat but one of the key things stopping it from passing appears to be international pressure, in no small part from the EU and partners like the United States.

Similarly, when in 2012 Liberia considered further criminalizing its LGBT population, international pressure made it clear in no uncertain terms that to hound the LGBT community would mean the breaking down of international relations. This led to lawmakers appearing to reconsider the most severe penalties.

While EU influence has not been enough to prevent every nation from further criminalizing its LGBT population, with Nigeria forging ahead earlier this year on tougher penalties for gay marriage, its overall LGBT inclusive foreign policy has been of considerable help in stopping harassment and violence.

For instance, the EU has made protecting LGBTs and ending discrimination against the community a component of membership, something that Turkey and several other nations are still struggling with — but it is a vital struggle that can bring about meaningful change.

In addition, as recently as June of this year, EU ministers agreed to actively pursue the rights of so-called sexual minorities (which, for this purpose, includes gender identity and expression). In fact, a 20-page dossier published by EU ministers says the EU “reaffirms that cultural, traditional or religious values cannot be invoked to justify any form of discrimination, including discrimination against LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex] persons.”

The EU’s pro-LGBT rights stance, and that of other international communities, doesn’t sit well with everyone, to be sure.

Westcott’s speech came just days after Yahya Jammeh, President of Gambia, told the United Nations that the LGBT community is among one of the biggest threats to human existence, and apparently “more deadly than all natural disasters put together.” Jammeh then declared on Thursday, October 3 that Gambia will now leave the Commonwealth. For Gambia’s LGBT population, this must be terrifying.

Given that same-sex relationships are still illegal in almost 40 out of 54 African nations, we might consider this to be an issue of “fundamental” importance, to use Westcott’s own terminology, and while Westcott is right in stating that preserving the EU’s foreign power is a legitimate concern, his apparent casting of LGBT rights as a mere “cultural” issue — as though the right to live one’s life free of violence and persecution is akin to a minor disagreement over heritage or history — is quite frankly deplorable.

To be sure, the EU’s continued involvement is vital. Were the EU to abandon LGBTs in Africa now, as Westcott seems to be suggesting, it could, for some, really be a death sentence.

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Photo Credit: Giampaolo Squarcina.

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51 comments

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11:04AM PDT on Oct 12, 2013

Thank you Karen H.

3:14PM PDT on Oct 11, 2013

To Annelies H. - For fairness I just realize that Gambia slipped by me - it is a

90% Muslim country.

12:55AM PDT on Oct 11, 2013

To Annelies H. - Before demonizing one more time Islam and its 1.6 Billion members because of the doings of some at best 0.5% extremists and singling it out as the “evil force” behind everything – we don’t do this after all for the Jews and Christians either, or do we?!?! - one should maybe check the countries in question:

Uganda 88 % Christian
Liberia 85.6 %
Nigeria 50 % Christian

That much for Islamophobia which seems to be more than welcome and thriving unabated on Care2 – makes me wonder at times!

6:12PM PDT on Oct 10, 2013

ty

5:35PM PDT on Oct 10, 2013

This man could therefore justify Hitler's concentration camps as a cultural issue.

2:54PM PDT on Oct 10, 2013

After some serious deliberation, I've decided to post what I really think.

Good luck trying to convince the growing majority of Muslims around the world that the rights of the human being trump "cultural" (read: religious) values. Africa is no longer a country of "blacks" the same way that Europe is no longer a country of "whites." What we have now is a growing dichotomy of Islam and not-Islam. The ideologies of this religion are taking hold in the same way the christianity of the crusades did: if you don't convert religiously, then you will convert ideologically. That it's happening through public opinion and political policy is a credit to the force behind it, and the reason it's most likely to take us by surprise. Every miniscule erosion of our rights adds to the wave that laps our shores. Before we know it, there will be no more of the freedoms we have learned to take for granted. Brace yourself for some serious change (or start pushing back while you still can).

10:28AM PDT on Oct 10, 2013

Excuse me, but since when are crimes against humanity “cultural” issues? And just what does Wescott define as “fundamental values”? I would also like to know how Yahya Jammeh thinks “the LGBT community is among one of the biggest threats to human existence”. These so-called world “leaders” make statements without clarifying the thought process that went into them.
As many point out, it all comes down to MONEY. That’s why no government or corporate sponsor is condemning the World Cup or Olympics, both of which will have athletes and visitors facing rampant and potentially deadly violence. The governments and sponsors only want to line their pockets. That’s why I have stopped supporting the sponsors of the upcoming Olympics.
If Coca-Cola insists on sponsoring these events, it would be nice to see the old “I’d like to teach the world to sing” commercials to remind them of how the company used to care.

9:29PM PDT on Oct 9, 2013

Human beings need to unite and push forward the ideas of personal freedoms and equality. I have no problems walking up to Africa, figuratively speaking, and telling them that marginalizing (never mind slaughtering) LGBT people is wrong any more than I have a problem preventing bullying in a schoolyard. Grab a spine and stand up for what's right. Soft politics will only result in all of us losing our hard-won freedoms.

5:20AM PDT on Oct 9, 2013

what westcott actually means is that human Rights do not matter to the EU and only money is of concern. Westcott is displaying a spineless and greedy mindset. He needs to go. The EU is bigger than the Westcott point of view.

2:45AM PDT on Oct 9, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

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