On the 22nd of March 2014 the Belgian federal parliament unanimously voted in favour of a proposed resolution as a reaction to the passing into law of the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda. A resolution in general is seen as a weak instrument for giving direction to politics and as the parliament will disolve end of the week, the impact of this resolution can only be generated during the negotiating of the next majority and their governing programmes. By that time most probably one third up to half of the parliamentarians will be replaced by newly elected members. The last plenary session of the parliament before the next elections (25th of may) is on 25th of march, the resolution came last mintue, but more remarkable is the unanimous vote. Unanimous votes are very rare in the parliament, where opposition mostly vote against resolutions introduced by governing parties. Though the resolution is not available in english at this moment, the french and dutch versions are, and i want to highlight some of the step stones and the content.
When i go through it, it comes to me as if the introduction is more interesting to read then the resolution itself, the introductions reflects the process of keeping the governments attention for the situation in Uganda and for LGBT rights awake during the last five years.
The introduction, gladly mentions besides the articles 2 and 3 of the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCP) also the articles 17 and 26, respectively about the right to family and private life and the right to equal justice. So yes, for the Belgian members of parliament, LGBT relationships and families are legitimate and no, the government should not come into the sleeping-room, and LGBT have the right to defend their fundamental human rights in court.
It also refers to another step stone, a resolution voted in the aftermath of the murder on David Kato, a resolution on the responsibility of the government in challenging worldwide the criminalisation of homosexuality. It further refers to speeches and answers to parliamentarian questions by our ministers, amongst them the speech in the human rights council of the UN on 21 march 2012. The Belgian law on development aid has been revised and voted on the 19 march 2013 and since then contains a specific article including the fight against all forms of discrimination and the transversal importance of the fight against gender related inequalities.
So far it reads as a school worthy example of how a lobby, WISH2.be and a few other motivated individuals over the years can weight on the parliament and how keeping record of every given answer or reply to claims about LGBT rights, can be used to push the system forward. The introductory building blocks are definitely an important element in the fact that unanimity was reached when it came to vote, but the introduction was not the only one, reaching unanimity demands for compromising, at least in Belgian federal politics.
The claims voted in the resolution does focus on the bi-lateral development aid programme between Belgium and Uganda, which is due to be renegotiated in 2015.
The resolution links the evaluation of the necessity of a new bi-lateral collaboration protocol (as we call it), to the willingness of the Ugandan government to admit the universality, the indivisibility and the inalienability of fundamental human rights and the efforts made to create a climate of tolerance for sexual- and gender diversity. The resolution challenges the government to try to include in the next protocol, a paragraph forcing the Ugandan authorities to develop a non-discrimination policy for the LGBT community, without this challenge hurts the supported populations and the LGBTcommunities itself.
Wondering where we could end with such a challenge in negotiations with authorities under the lead of President Museveni and negotiating all this in a pre-electoral year (Uganda holds elections in 2016).
For the first time in Belgian history and for the first time explicitly since the new law on the development aid, the parliament calls unanimously to include in every country-report on development aid, a chapter on the situation of LGBT.
The resolution calls the government to invest in programmes promoting non-discrimination of LGBT and HIV/aids prevention for the LGBT communities, an area where Belgium’s development programmes hasn’t a long record when it comes to field work. The parliament also asks Belgium to run a situational analysis of the situation of LGBT in Uganda to shape it’s policy, another novelty never mentioned earlier as a potential instrument for governing. The one and only situational analysis for an LGBT community initiated from Belgium was the one initiated for Burundi in 2010 and it was not sponsored by government funds.
Point 8 of the resolution is also interesting, it states the government should encourage funders to make an analysis of the non-discrimination and penal-laws Uganda really need to prepare the decriminalisation of homosexuality. (e.g. anti-corruption, anti-child-marriage or -molesting laws, gender equality in the working place, etc.). The parliament might consider the advice on necessary laws as a step to far in terms of ‘sovereignty’ and thus calls for funders to do so. The resolution finally also points to the freedom of association and the need not to outlaw NGO’s and LGBT organisations.
The resolution on itself will not change anything for the daily life of LGBT in Uganda. In the best case it will toughen the negotiations for the next protocol and enhance the quality of the Belgian reporting on the situation.
The redirection of aid to NGO’s -as asked by the Ugandan coalition – is not included but can be withheld as an instrument in case the negotiations doesn’t give the expected result and if the commitments by the Ugandan negotiators are to weak. The resolution opens the door for aid-redirecting, but it is not explicitly mentioned as such. Moreover the resolution openly pull a card for aid-conditionality. The process of negotiating a new bi-lateral agreement with Uganda will be of extreme importance for the next generation of Belgian development aid under the 2013 law. I really hope people such as David Kato, Long Jones, Bisi Alimi, Chris Rumu and others who repeatedly informed the Belgian government on their view and the needs of the LGBT community will be around and actively involved from the very beginning.
I want to open the debate on this resolution with words of Bisi Alimi on the topic of aid-redirecting in Uganda: “Well, I’ll put on record that I am seriously, seriously against aid-conditionality. I’ve been demonized for it, I don’t care. I’m against the idea of giving money and putting a condition on it. It doesn’t make sense to me at all. But I am in support of strategically repositioning aid and I will tell you why. Countries like Uganda still get budget support, but the whole idea of budget support is to give money to the Ugandan government to pay the Ugandan civil service. That’s why they will have more and more “ghost” workers. Money that will go into a direct development agenda is really not being funded. Someone like me, what I’d say is that we shouldn’t put conditions on aid. Instead, we should put the money where it will affect the life of the woman in the rural area of Uganda or Nigeria or Sudan, where she will be able to empower her family and send her children to school. It can help the man resume his role as a breadwinner, and do so respectfully. Give people access to health care, good education, good water, good roads, that is what I call development. When you give money to your cronies, as we see in the case of Uganda and Nigeria, and you are telling me you are doing development work, I question you. And that’s why I find it hard to support aid-conditionality. Because when you do that you turn the tables against me. Then they can say, the reason why this project failed is because of these people: Are they better than us? And then we have to argue why we are not better than that woman in the rural area. So that compounds the already compounded problems I have. And how many battles can I fight? I need that woman in the rural area to stand up for me, as much as I want to stand up for her. The moment you use aid as a weapon, it divides us. We will never get to where we are going, and that’s why I will never support it.”
Looking forward for other reactions and hope to see someone posting the resolution an English version of the resolution.