Monday, January 11, 2016

US has sovereign right not to fund extremist religious hatrade, bigotry

In 2014, members of the Inter Religious Council of Uganda congratulate President Yoweri Museveni on signing the nation’s short-lived Anti-Homosexuality Act in a special celebration they organized to mark the event. This letter is in response to the December 20 article entitled: “U.S. Support of Gay Rights in Africa May Have Done More Harm than Good.” While it may be true that some Nigerian LGBTI activists may be under pressure as a result of the US government policy to link foreign aid to the support for gay rights in African countries, the writer fails to highlight the successes of US foreign aid. Uganda has one of the harshest environments in the world for gay or alleged gay persons. The US government’s new pivot to public support for gay rights is the right foreign policy direction. The United States contributes more than 70% of Uganda’s National HIV/AIDS response through its PEPFAR [President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] program. The PEPFAR program has succeeded in making reforms at country level and in Washington to focus on fighting the pandemic, not the people based on their sexual orientations, gender identity or expression. Since PEPFAR shifted its funding toward supporting LGBTI and other highly HIV-burdened and underserved communities, it is the first time ever in the history of PEPFAR that beneficiaries, especially LGBTI people bearing the brunt of the pandemic resulting from years of their own countries neglect, are accessing care, treatment and support. It is the first time ever a publicly self-identifying queer person is representing fellow LGBTI persons on the Global Fund Board in Uganda, influencing public health programmes. On December 17, Ugandan gay community made an unprecedented move at a gala dinner organized by Sexual Minorities Uganda in Kampala to publicly thank the Ugandan government for making health accessible to everyone without discrimination. The gay community also honored publicly U.S. diplomats posted to Kampala Mission and people who have openly spoken out against hatred. It’s true that both Nigeria and Uganda are sovereign independent nations with a mandate to draft their own laws to govern their people. However, these laws should conform to state obligations under International Human Rights Laws and protocols adhered to by both countries that advance human dignity. Such laws should also be in line with ordinary people’s aspirations to live in a free and democratic societies. The anti-gay laws in Uganda and Nigeria, and a wave of similar such laws/bills across the continent fueled by American evangelical Christian individuals and institutions, cannot replace the will of African people— to live in peace, unity and dignity. Besides, while those sovereign African countries do exercise their independence and autonomy, the United States is also an autonomous nation with a right to comment on injustices, inhumane treatment of people overseas in bilateral partner countries. Gay persecution, murder, intimidation, torture and cruel inhumane treatment subjected to African gay people for being who they are not United States values; neither are they Christian values. The United States also has a right to make it clear that U.S. taxpayers’ federal dollars in support of human well-being overseas, also supports human dignity. African homosexuals must be treated like any other human being in Africa. The U.S. has the sovereign right to deny funding to groups that wage a war of death, murder, persecution on African LGBTI people. The article [in the New York Times] quotes Rev. George Ehusani, former Secretary General of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, suggesting that Nigerian Catholic charities had stopped applying for American government grants that promote gay rights. This is exactly what should be. People promoting murder and persecution, including the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, should not qualify for U.S. federal dollars. African LGBTI people are rising up. It is not true as Rev. Kapya Kaoma, an Anglican priest from Zambia, suggests in your article, that African LGBTI activists are caught up in a U.S. culture war. More accurately, we are shedding an importation of homophobia and bigotry from Britain in its 19th century Penal Code, copied and pasted into African British colonial law books. As a citizen of Zambia, a former British colony, Rev. Kaoma is well aware that many African pre-colonial societies never persecuted, humiliated nor murdered gay people as the Europeans did. Take the ill-fated example of the Inter Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU), a consortium of all religious groups in Uganda to promote peace, reconciliation, and good governance. This institution, bringing together Catholics, Muslims, Adventists and Evangelical worshipers, has been a recipient of US government federal funds to fight HIV/AIDS — until recently, when the US withheld its funds and redirected them to other institutions. For quite some time, leaders of these faiths have been at the forefront of pushing for mass murder of Ugandan homosexuals. They actively supported the passage of the now annulled Anti Homosexuality Act 2014 in Uganda, including calls to imprison all homosexuals on an island in Lake Victoria. Members of the Inter Religious Council of Uganda congratulate President Yoweri Museveni on signing the nation's short-lived Anti-Homosexuality Act in a special celebration they organized to mark the event. In 2014, members of the Inter Religious Council of Uganda congratulate President Yoweri Museveni on signing the nation’s short-lived Anti-Homosexuality Act in a special celebration they organized to mark the event. The IRCU’s influence was a result of U.S. federal-funding-caused gross failures in Uganda’s National HIV/AIDS response. There is now a realization that such lack of a human-rights-based approach cannot work in the fight against HIV. In Uganda, more than 70% of national health output is met by faith-based or -linked medical institutions. In some remote areas, there are not government-supported health facilities at all, apart from those run by the church. Yet, IRCU leadership continued its faith-based policy and discrimination among patients attending its U.S.-supported health infrastructure by denying condoms distribution or HIV prevention interventions and care services. Rather than supporting the likes of IRCU — groups striving to normalize and further institutionalize LGBTI persecution — African countries and Washington allies should continue to embrace human rights, and human dignity for all. The USD $700 million, mentioned in the article, helps draw attention and redress the danger and neglect we suffer at the hands of our governments and religious institutions. It also must be clarified that the $700 m was not only in the service of LGBTI people; rather it was allocated to all populations highly burdened by HIV and traditionally underserved. The U.S. funding shift away from bigotry and toward support for HIV programs serving LGBTI and other vulnerable communities is a lifeline, not a liability

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