German foreign policy works to support gay rights | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 09.02.2012
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Germany

German foreign policy works to support gay rights

Homosexuals are marginalized in many countries: some 80 nations make homosexuality punishable by law. Germany has put renewed emphasis on gay rights, and is working with the EU to protect homosexuals everywhere.

The German foreign ministry has announced strong support of gay rights around the world.

"In foreign affairs, the German government strongly objects to any discrimination based on sexual orientation," the Foreign Ministry said on its website. "It will do everything it can to fight discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals."

The goal is not always easy to implement. Nevertheless, German human rights commissioner Markus Löning sees it as an important part of his work.

"Homosexuals are discriminated against in many countries," he said, "whether in Africa, Asia or Europe. In many nations, there is societal discrimination against homosexuals."

Worse still could be the discrimination encoded in the judicial systems of some 80 countries. Seven nations, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, punish homosexuals with the death penalty.

Germany is taking steps, including resolutions at the United Nations, to recognize, protect and enshrine gay rights. South Africa has proposed a UN resolution of its own calling for equal rights for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation. It passed on June 17 of last year and aimed to end sexual discrimination against minorities at the state level.

In 2010, the European Union drew up a catalog of measures to protect homosexuals. It was designed as a guideline for the EU to strengthen gay rights, both within its borders and abroad.

Human rights are not divisible

Renate Rampf, spokeswoman for the Hirschfeld-Eddy Foundation

Rampf wants more gays involved in human rights talks

The Hirschfeld-Eddy Foundation, founded in 2007, works for gay rights around the world. Spokeswoman Renate Rampf said she has seen concrete success.

"There has been meaningful improvement for lesbians and gays," she said of EU policies forcing Germany to adopt anti-discrimination laws.

Still, she regrets that many measures to come from Brussels are non-binding. She added she hopes for wider recognition of the 2007 Yogyakarta Principles. Those principles, named after the Indonesian city, frame the development of current international human rights standards from the point of view of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals and intersexuals.

Up until now, Rampf said, all matters of human rights have been worked out by heterosexual men. Her goal is for human rights to truly apply to all people, regardless of their sexual orientation.

"Human rights are human rights for all, and apply to every human being," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said in memorable remarks.

German efforts

Markus Löning, Germany's human rights commissioner

Löning sees gay rights tied to development

Germany has a wide playing field to support homosexuals, both on the domestic and foreign fronts. Last spring, the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development issued a strategic paper stressing that human rights violations hinder development. The paper made human rights a broader issue than before, with gay rights a key part of development work.

Malawi and Uganda present two case studies. Both countries previously planned strict legal measures against homosexuals. Then came strong international pressure from nations including Germany. Löning entered negotiations with senior Ugandan politicians.

"I was told that their society was against lesbians and gays," he said. "It did not fit the family image, so homosexuality had to be strongly punished."

After that, Löning said Development Minister Dirk Niebel intervened. Niebel made it clear that the law would mean an end to German cooperation on development work. As a result, the law was blocked for a time. However, Uganda has just reintroduced the bill.

In Malawi, meanwhile, a German freeze on budget assistance has long had little sway. Homosexuality in the southern African country is still punishable by long prison sentences.

Other than direct intervention, creating networks is an important field for Germany. Germany regularly invites activists from around the world, with an East European delegation paying a recent visit, according to Löning. He said such meetings help activists network with organizations in Germany as well as German embassies and development workers.

Löning added it was important to share that "even in Germany, there was a long political and social process" leading up to the adoption of its main non-discrimination law. It bars discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, religion, worldview, disability, age or sexual identity.

Rampf said gay rights issues are often marginalized in negotiations, or that people get the impression homosexuals are claiming special rights. But she said the best approach is to simply implement enshrined human rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals and intersexuals.

Author: Sabine Harter-Mojdehi / srs
Editor: Gregg Benzow

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