Ministry faces new aid dilemmas

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Norway’s Foreign Ministry was facing tough questions on Wednesday over its  extension of financial aid to more than a dozen countries in Africa that have laws against homosexuality. Calls were going out that such aid should be redirected in line with changes announced this week in aid to Uganda, even though ministry officials face major “dilemmas” in doing so.

The former Norwegian government minister in charge of foreign aid, Heikki Holmås, signed an agreement in Malawi in 2012 worth NOK 100 million for small-scale farming operations. In Malawi, however, homosexuals can be imprisoned for more than 10 years. New Foreign Minister Børge Brende, who has taken on responsibility for foreign aid in addition to other foreign affairs, is now cracking down on such financial support to countries that violate what he calls fundamental human rights. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet / Svein Bæra

The former Norwegian government minister in charge of foreign aid, Heikki Holmås, signed an agreement in Malawi in 2012 worth NOK 100 million for small-scale farming operations. In Malawi, however, homosexuals can be imprisoned for more than 10 years. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet / Svein Bæra

Foreign Minister Børge Brende stressed that his decision to redirect Norway’s foreign aid to Uganda was a direct result of how Uganda’s new law that calls for life imprisonment for practicing homosexuals “sets itself apart” from the anti-gay laws on the books in 31 other countries in Africa.

“The reason I took action against Uganda is that it, in the year 2014, imposes a completely new law that can send folks into prison for life for being homosexual,” Brende told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “Norway must react to this, and set an example.”

NRK, however, reported that 31 countries in Africa that receive foreign aid from Norway  also have laws making homosexuality illegal. In four of those countries, homosexuality can be punishable by death. In 10 of the 32 countries receiving financial support from Norway, gays and lesbians can be imprisoned for 10 years or more.

Børge Brende

New Foreign Minister Børge Brende, who has taken on responsibility for foreign aid in addition to other foreign policies for Norway’s new conservative government, is now cracking down on financial aid to countries that violate what he calls fundamental human rights. PHOTO: Høyre

Brende’s decision to initially redirect NOK 50 million in Norwegian aid to private organizations in Uganda instead of the Ugandan government, and then to declare that all of Norway’s NOK 400 million in annual aid to Uganda is under review, received broad political support. Now Brende is being called upon to review Norway’s NOK 4 billion in aid to all the other countries that blatantly discriminate against homosexuals, and deny them what Brende calls their fundamental human rights.

“If there are other countries in Africa that practice and impose the type of law that Uganda has, then we must also look at that,” Brende told NRK. “Because I think it is unacceptable to violate human rights in such a fundamental way in the 21st century.”

Other ministry officials note, however, that several of the most severe anti-gay laws in African countries are so-called “sleeping paragraphs,” that aren’t practiced. What sets Uganda apart, they note, is its president’s firm pronouncement this week that his government will practice its new law imposing lifetime prison terms on homosexuals, and possibly even on persons accused of being gay or lesbian who won’t admit it. Nigeria also has a similar strict law, calling not only for life in prison, but whippings. NRK reported that Norway extended NOK 54 million to Nigeria last year.

Researchers and, paradoxically enough, officials at the Norwegian national organization representing homosexuals (Landsforeningen for lesbiske, homofile og transperson, LLH) caution that cuts in foreign aid that are aimed at promoting gay rights may actually backfire. They worry that the situation for homosexuals in countries like Uganda may worsen, if they end up being blamed for reductions or even redirection of foreign aid. Uganda’s president has scoffed at Norway’s aid redirection and claimed his country doesn’t need or want such aid anyway, but there may still be a backlash when funding fails to turn up.

“There are of course dilemmas tied to all this,” Brende admitted. “But we must stand up for some principles, and I think it’s right to send this signal.” He said the government would continue to evaluate moving larger portions of foreign aid towards civilian organizations instead of governments imposing anti-gay laws.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund