Monday, 23 May 2011

EU officials tell Africa to shape up on gay rights

Andris Piebalgs, Latvian politicianAndris Piebalgs image via Wikipedia
Source: EU Observer

By Andrew Reitman

EU development commissioner Andris Piebalgs and his predecessor, Louis Michel, have spoken out against homophobia at a meeting of EU, African and Caribbean politicians.

Michel, currently a Liberal Belgian MEP, who built a big name for himself in Africa during his five years in charge of disbursing EU aid to developing countries, said: "I have saved for last a consideration that is dear to my heart. The right to be different is at the heart of human rights. I would fail in my duties if I made no reference to a sensitive subject in this assembly."
"I wish to say with the greatest determination that we will never accept that governments or politicians may use, or even exploit, any ‘cultural' argument in an attempt to justify the hunt and demonization of homosexuality."
Piebalgs said the EU is rooted under the EU treaty and the Charter of Fundamental Rights to combating anti-gay hatred.

The two EU personalities made the comments in Budapest 17 May to mark international anti-homophobia day.

African and Caribbean societies display some of the highest levels of intolerance toward gay people.

Uganda last week postponed a vote in parliament on a bill threatening same-sex lovers with the death penalty. Human Rights Watch on Wednesday published a letter to the government of Cameroon saying its detention of Jean-Claude Mbede for three years for arranging a date with his lover is unconstitutional.

The NGO said jail sentences for gay men in some African countries can amount to death sentences because of violent assaults including sexual violence, by other inmates.

Almost all the EU institutions on Tuesday issued high-level statements to mark the international event.

The bloc's top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, said:
"The EU calls on all States to end acts of violence, criminal sanctions and human rights violations against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity." 
She noted that 80 countries worldwide criminalise homosexual acts and seven use the death penalty against gay people.

EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy said:
"We in the European Union can take some pride in being at the vanguard of combating homophobia ... It is something that distinguishes Europe from many other parts of the world."
North and west-lying EU member states are world leaders in terms of anti-discrimination laws. But cultural and rights gaps exist in south and east-lying countries.

The Polish centre-left SLD paty on Tuesday introduced a bill in the Sejm proposing that same-sex couples should be able to legally register 'civil unions' and to claim almost the same level of rights as married couples. But the ruling centre-right Civic Platform (PO) party and the right-wing opposition PiS parties immediately came out against it.

PO chief Tomasz Tomyczkiewicz said the law is against the Polish constitution. PiS chief Jaroslaw Kaczynski said "You can now say that the SLD is the party of homosexuals."

Hungary, which recently voted through a new constitution that also contains an implicit ban on gay unions, was, in its role as the rotating EU presidency, the only major EU institution to stay silent on homophobia on Tuesday.

For their parts, US secretary of state Hilary Clinton and UN human rights envoy Navi Pillay voiced similar views to EU leaders.

Mentioning Serbia and Uganda as targets for US pro-tolerance diplomacy, Clinton said: "These are not Western concepts: these are universal human rights."

Pillay, a native South African, said: "Under international law, states have an obligation to decriminalise homosexuality and to protect individuals from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation."

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