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No immediate change to German aid for Uganda

Philipp Sandner / mcFebruary 27, 2014

Uganda's anti-gay law continues to draw harsh international criticism, with several Western countries freezing aid. Germany's Development Ministry said any cuts to aid by Berlin would require "careful scrutiny."

Uganda Homosexuelle Magazin Red Pepper
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

The barrage of attacks against Uganda's gays and lesbian continues unabated. The Ugandan tabloid "Red Pepper" claimed on Tuesday (25.02.2014) to have exposed the "200 top" gays, triggering a new witch hunt. On Tuesday night, a Ugandan human rights activist Jacqueline Kasha tweeted that a gay couple had been brutally attacked. One of them had died, the other was in hospital.

The incident is reminiscent of the murder of Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato after a newspaper had printed his picture on its front page. The accompanying headline read "Hang them." Shortly before his death, Kato had secured a court ruling prohibiting the slander of gay people by newspapers.

This latest hate campaign against gays comes as no surprise. On Monday, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed into law a new anti-gay bill which punishes gay sex with up to life in jail. It also penalizes the promotion of homosexuality.

Human rights activists and politicians have warned that the measure could put the lives of Ugandan gays in jeopardy and there has been global criticism of the bill.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has called on Uganda to protect all its citizens from violence and discrimination. He said he hoped the law could be amended or withdrawn. Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands have announced that they are freezing development aid to Uganda. Sweden and the US are contemplating similar measures.

'Completely unacceptable'

German politicians are also alarmed by the new bill. The German government's Social Democrat human rights commissioner, Christoph Strässer told DW the tough penalty was completely unacceptable.

Christoph Strässer
Christoph Strässer believes halting aid would not hit those repsonsible for the anti-gay billImage: picture-alliance/spdfraktion.de/Susie Knoll/Florian Jänicke

"It violates international law and international treaties which Uganda has signed," he said.

Strässer called on the Ugandan government to rescind the legislation. It was sending the wrong message to the region. Uganda is not the only country in which homosexuality was criminalized. Same-sex relations are illegal in Kenya, Tanzania and South Sudan. President Goodluck Jonathan signed a new anti-gay bill into law in Nigeria at the beginning of the year.

Strässer believes that freezing development aid is not necessarily the right response. "It would hit those who are not responsible for this policy," he said. Dagmar Wöhrl, a member of the conservative Bavarian Christian Social Union Party and chair of the German parliament's development aid committee, shares this view. She told DW that "stopping all the aid would only hit the poorest of poor once again."

German project aid

In January 2013, the then German development minister Dirk Niebel froze direct budget aid to Uganda, citing as the reason the East African country's hostile policy towards gays and lesbians. The draft anti-gay bill under discussion at the time in Uganda envisaged the death sentence for gays under certain circumstances. In the wake of international pressure, the maximum penalty was reduced to life imprisonment. Niebel found a way to relax the sanctions – aid was restarted in the form of project assistance.

Claudia Roth
Claudia Roth: Germany should support 'moderate and open-minded elements in Ugandan cvil society'Image: Getty Images

Greens politician Claudia Roth, a deputy speaker in the German parliament, believes halting budget aid in itself to be insufficient. Museveni has signed the anti-gay bill into law and international efforts to stem homophobia in Uganda have failed. The German government should now cut the aid to Uganda intended to encourage good governance, Roth told DW in a written statement. "Germany should be focusing on helping the moderate and open-minded elements in Ugandan civil society," she added.

There was a guarded response from Germany's development ministry. "In our dealings with state players, we refer to human rights violations when discussing development policy and call for them to be halted," it said. It was possible to reallocate German funds, but cutting them altogether needed careful scrutiny, it added.

Museveni apparently unimpressed

Uganda's anti-gay bill has caused dismay in the European Union. Sebastien Brabant, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, told DW it was not only gay rights that were at issue but also "the protection of all minorities from discrimination or persecution." He added that "Uganda is bound by its constitution and international agreements to respect human rights." The new bill needs to be assessed on this basis. The EU is still supplying direct budget aid to Uganda. This should be stopped, Claudia Roth said.

Presdient Museveni has so far shrugged off international criticism. "The outsiders will have to live with us. If they don't want to, they can take their aid." He then concluded: "Uganda is very rich, we don't need aid. In fact, aid is part of the problem."