Next Tuesday, parliament will vote a law that could punish anyone who identifies as LGBT+ with ten years in prison. And on Thursday evening, Ugandan President Museveni called homosexuality another abnormality. “But Ugandan activists, for example for LGBT+ rights, can continue to count on our support, our development cooperation will remain present for the time being,” says Gennez.
Just before her departure from Uganda on Friday evening, Gennez was able to speak to various human rights activists, who testified about the shrinking space for civil society, and therefore also for those who stand up for LGBT+ rights.
For Gennez, there can be no question of the Belgian development cooperation packing up because of Museveni’s statements. “We will of course continue to follow this file closely, and will continue to make statements about this to our discussion partners within the government,” says the Vooruit minister. “It is easy, like the extreme parties, to call to the sidelines and think in this way to keep a clear conscience, but that is not how you help people here. International politics is never black and white.”
“On my first day I saw the Minister of Finance, and I made it clear to him that respect for women’s rights and the LGBT+ community is central to the projects we support,” the minister emphasizes.
The various activists indicated to Gennez that they benefit most from support for their activities, and the social democrat emphasizes that the Belgian development cooperation also provides this. “Besides the bilateral program with Uganda, we therefore also support human rights organizations, and in doing so we emphasize to the regime the importance of organizations that can criticize the policy.”
Distraction from real problems
For activists, the law is primarily an issue created to divert attention from the corruption and widespread rape of underage girls. In 2013, parliament already approved a similar law, but it was eventually declared invalid. But today the situation for the LGBT+ community is much worse than it was then. Videos are circulating on social media in which gays are targeted, with the result that their landlord, for example, evicts them or attacks them, the activists testified. Such hate campaigns are fueled by statements by political leaders, such as Museveni, and leaders of the influential evangelical churches.
That propaganda refers to Western NGOs that would indoctrinate children to change their orientation. “We have asked them for evidence, but it has not yet surfaced,” said Gennez. “And it is also true that the passage of the law is an international embarrassment for the country. But not only that: international companies investing here have already expressed their disapproval, and the law would also be a drama for healthcare and the so important education sector. We hope that the coming days and weeks will bring wisdom.”