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Irish aid with strings attached: Should Ireland help countries that deny gay rights?

Conditional aid in return for human rights improvements – is this to be the future of development aid?

Women protest against a sentence of 14 years in prison, with hard labor, given to two men in Malawi under Malawi's anti-gay legislation.
Women protest against a sentence of 14 years in prison, with hard labor, given to two men in Malawi under Malawi's anti-gay legislation.
Image: Press Association Images

ACCORDING TO THE 2013 report from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, 77 countries  have laws making homosexuality illegal.

Ireland’s aid programme is ranked as one of the best in the world, with the country giving €623 million last year.

We give aid to Ethiopia, Uganda and Zambia – all countries where homosexuality is illegal.

Conditional aid is something that has been widely debated, with ethics and morality at the forefront of the argument. In situations where regimes overstep the mark internationally, sanctions are often introduced to attempt to enforce change, so is there an argument to be made that to bring about change to gay rights, bigger steps have to be taken?

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Map of where homosexuality is illegal. (Business Insider) To view list of countries click here.

The argument is that countries that give aid – like Ireland – should not automatically believe they have a right to be a controlling force in the country.

On the other side of the argument is a legitimate viewpoint that aid is not only given to alleviate poverty but also given to help the development of a strong government, human rights and a sustainable future for the country.

Conditional aid

The question is; should the Irish government provide development aid to countries that criminalises homosexuality or should there be strings attached to the aid we provide regarding basic rights?

In 2011, David Cameron pledged to slash aid to African countries with poor records on homosexual rights.

The Prime Minister told struggling nations they would receive funding “fines” if persecution of gay people continues, going so far as cutting aid to Malawi by £19 million after two gay men were sentenced to 14 years hard labour.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told TheJournal.ie that their position is clear: “Consensual, same-sex relationships should not be criminalised and we strongly support measures to ensure that the right to freedom of expression and association can be enjoyed effectively by all.”

They added that Ireland’s commitment to the “promotion and protection of human rights is a fundamental feature of our foreign policy and aid programme” stating that their new Policy for International Development One World, One Future, identifies human rights and accountability as a key priority.

The DFA said Ireland will continue to express their support for all human rights activists, in particular, those working on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) rights, stating they have made a firm commitment to combating discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Ireland’s role

Is this an ethical issue we should be looking more closely at? The DFA said this is something that has been on their radar for some time and something they raise with these countries. They stated:

At Ministerial and diplomatic level, Ireland continues to urge the Governments with whom we work to support the principle of non-discrimination in relation to sexual minorities.

Speaking at the Front Line’s sixth Dublin Platform for Human Rights Defenders in 2011, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said the adoption of the Resolution on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, which Ireland co-sponsored at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in June 2011, was important as it was the first time a UN resolution explicitly acknowledged human rights protection as covering sexual orientation.

Last year, Gilmore said it was a “profound advancement”.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Brian Sheehan, Director of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) said the recent developments in some countries are shocking and have created a real danger for many LGBT people.

He said:

The causes are complex and include for example the influence of religious groups based in America. It is important in addressing these urgent problems that we are guided by the perspective of local LGBT and human rights activists.

He said he believed Ireland was in a unique position, stating:

Ireland has its own particular history of progressing LGBT rights, where there has been a transformation over a relatively short timeframe. It’s just 20 years since we got rid of the old colonial laws which criminalised gay people here.

Clashes between aid-giving nations and development partners

A White Paper on Irish Aid stated that embracing a rights-based approach opens up a language that will be helpful in terms of justifying decisions and explaining actions to other development partners, adding that clashes of values between host governments and development partners can often “get sidelined into political point-scoring affairs that hurt relationships, results and endanger the rights of already vulnerable groups”.

Frontline Defenders said in response to the brief said that the absence of a dedicated human rights presence within the Development Cooperation Division (DCD) has impacted on the commitments contained in the White Paper.

Without coherent human rights expertise and direction within the DCD, it is difficult to see how the Government is monitoring and evaluating the human rights obligations and impact of the Irish Aid programme… Without a dedicated Human Rights Officer within the Development Cooperation Division, and in the absence of a Rights-Based Approach, there is no clarity regarding the effect, positive or negative, of Irish Aid interventions on human rights at country level.

They added that the relationship between the Human Rights Unit in the Political Division of the DFA, and the Development Cooperation Division could also be stronger and criticised that the White Paper contained no reference to LGBTI rights. They added:

Ireland has become an active and well respected player at multilateral level on LGBTI rights, specifically through it’s engagement at the Human Rights Council… Ireland has become an active and well respected player at multilateral level on LGBTI rights, specifically through it’s engagement at the Human Rights Council.

Sheehan said Ireland could go further in positioning itself at the forefront of LGBT rights in developing countries, stating:

We think that this experience  combined with our aid partnerships and our long involvement with education and health in many African countries, positions Ireland to play a significant role in supporting the development of LGBT rights in other countries.

Column: Living for love, dying because of hate – the rising tide of homophobia in Africa>

Column: Boycotting the Olympics would make things more difficult for Russia’s LGBT people>

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