The East African (Nairobi)

Africa: Obama and UN Join Push for Gay Rights on Continent

President Barack Obama and the United Nations' top human rights official have added their voices to the British prime minister's call for respect for gay rights in Africa and throughout the world.

The UN's first-ever report in support of gay rights, coupled with the African-American leader's condemnation of homophobia globally, will intensify pressure on countries such as Uganda to adopt more tolerant policies toward homosexuals.

In a landmark report published in mid-December, the UN contends that the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender persons (LGBT) are protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Obama administration is making a similar argument, but the US is being careful not to echo the UK's threat to cut development aid to countries that do not affirm LGBT rights. Speaking hours after Mr Obama's December 6 statement condemning all forms of bias against homosexuals, a White House official pointed out that the US is "not cutting or tying" development aid to changes in the policies of countries that allow discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Mr Obama's stance may take account of the warning issued by 53 gay rights groups in Africa, including several in Kenya and Uganda, in response to British Prime Minister David Cameron's announcement in October linking British aid to respect for gay rights.

In a speech to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in December, Secretary of State Hillary Clintonannounced that the US is providing $3 million to help civil society groups promote LGBT rights.

"Being gay is not a Western invention," Mrs Clinton declared. "It is a human reality. And protecting the human rights of all people, gay or straight, is not something that only Western governments do. South Africa's constitution, written in the aftermath of apartheid, protects the equality of all citizens, including gay people."

Mrs Clinton affirmative reference to South Africa was meant to contrast that country's policies with those of other African states, such as Uganda, that refuse to tolerate homosexuality.

Gay rights groups in the West as well as in Africa also point to Kenya as a positive example due to the recent confirmation of Willy Mutunga as chief justice and Nancy Baraza as deputy chief justice. Both judges, who declared themselves heterosexuals, had stirred controversy by expressing support for gay rights.

"While the intention may well be to protect the rights of LGBTI people on the continent, the decision to cut aid disregards the role of the LGBTI and broader social justice movement on the continent and creates the real risk of a serious backlash," the groups stated. (The "I" in the acronym they use stands for "intersex.")

Threats to withhold donor aid "disregard the agency of African civil society movements and political leadership," the groups added.

"Where women are almost as vulnerable as LGBTI people, or where health and food security are not guaranteed for anyone, singling out LGBTI issues emphasizes the idea that LGBTI rights are special rights and hierarchically more important than other rights."

In a speech to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in December, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton nevertheless announced that the US is providing $3 million to help civil society groups promote LGBT rights.

"Being gay is not a Western invention," Mrs Clinton declared. "It is a human reality.

And protecting the human rights of all people, gay or straight, is not something that only Western governments do. South Africa's constitution, written in the aftermath of apartheid, protects the equality of all citizens, including gay people."

Mrs Clinton affirmative reference to South Africa was meant to contrast that country's policies with those of other African states, such as Uganda, that refuse to tolerate homosexuality.

Her choice of the Human Rights Council as the venue for her remarks may likewise have been meant to signal US support for the UN report on gay rights which is dated November 17 but which was not published until mid-December.

It says that discrimination against LGBT individuals contradicts principles articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UN also approvingly cited the Kenya Human Rights Commission's May report entitled "The Outlawed Amongst Us -- A Study of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Community in Kenya."

Gay rights groups in the West as well as in Africa also point to Kenya as a positive example due to the recent confirmation of Willy Mutunga as chief justice and Nancy Baraza as deputy chief justice.

Both judges, who declared themselves heterosexuals, had stirred controversy by expressing support for gay rights.

The momentum for recognition of LGBT rights in Africa received another push last week in the form of a commentary by Ugandan activist Frank Mugisha published in The New York Times.

"The right to marry whom we love is far from our minds," Mr Mugisha wrote last week.

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