The British government is wrong to threaten to cut aid to developing countries that abuse human rights, such as the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-sex (LGBTI) people. Although these abuses are unacceptable and violate international humanitarian law, cuts in aid would penalise the poorest, most vulnerable people.
Many are dependent on western aid for basic needs like food, clean water, health care and education. In extreme cases, withdrawing aid could jeopardise their survival.
Moreover, some of those adversely affected by aid cuts will be LGBTI; thereby harming the very people this policy is meant to help.
Instead of cutting aid, Britain and other donor countries should divert their aid money from human rights abusing governments and redirect it to grassroots, community-based humanitarian projects that respect human rights and do not discriminate in their provision of services.
These frontline, on-the-ground projects tend to deliver the most cost-effective aid that gets most directly to the people who need it. By redirecting aid in this way, abusive governments are punished but poor people are not penalised. They continue to receive the aid they need.
Any sanctions must always be targeted at human rights abusers, not at the general population. Vulnerable people must not be made to suffer on account of the crimes of their governments.
One danger of the UK government's stance is that it will provoke a backlash against LGBTI people in the countries from which aid is withdrawn. Local LGBTI people will be seen as complicit. There is a risk that they will be scapegoated and victimised. It could exacerbate homophobic and transphobic persecution, with an upsurge in violent hate attacks.
Unilaterally withdrawing aid, regardless of the consequences for poor people, is reckless, harsh and cruel. It also fuels the claim that western powers are acting like colonial overlords, dictating policies to independent nations. Donor countries are entitled to cut or switch aid if they wish. But they also need to be mindful of perceptions - how this looks to the average African, Asian or Middle Eastern person.
Western governments should be working with LGBTI organisations and other human rights campaigners in homophobic countries to empower them to challenge sexual orientation and gender identity oppression. People in the countries concerned are best placed to fight for LGBTI rights and are least likely to be successfully tarred with the "neo-colonialist" slur. We should helping them to fight for their own freedom.
I support the coalition of African social justice activists, who are urging the UK government to rethink its plans to cut aid to despotic and homophobic regimes. They explain why this policy is morally wrong and politically misguided. I stand in solidarity with their declaration, where they state:
"The imposition of donor sanctions may be one way of seeking to improve the human rights situation in a country but does not, in and of itself, result in the improved protection of the rights of LGBTI people... An effective response to the violations of the rights of LBGTI people has to be more nuanced...(We) call on the British government to: Expand its aid to community-based and lead LGBTI programmes aimed at fostering dialogue and tolerance."
Western aid donors should heed this advice and work with human rights defenders and civil society organisations in oppressive countries, to empower them to challenge and defeat all human rights abuses.
For more information about Peter Tatchell's LGBTI campaigns: www.petertatchell.net
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