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Department for International Development: how to improve human rights in Uganda

Comment 7th August 2010

My two ideas are

  1. Channel some existing aid via minority groups – womens groups or gay groups – so that if these groups are locked-up, there is nobody to cash the cheques.   I'm assuming that they would be prepared to cash cheques for large amounts of money and pay the money on to existing grant recipients, and that this could be monitored for any corruption.
  2. A long-term goal of linking human rights violations with higher EU import tariffs. I'm thinking of examples where a third world country gets a special zero tariff in order to help it develop, but the third world government is more interested in locking people up and killing people than development.

My hope is that the short-term policy and long-term policy combined would make it very hard for third world politicians to persecute minorities to get easy popularity, as the Kampala government is doing now.

Why does this matter?

The problem: aid props-up bad regimes

This is the Department for International Development's view of Uganda–southern/uganda/

Some readers will know that the Kampala government is introducing the death penalty for gay people and anyone who fails to report gay people to the police.

This is an example of what happens when a government, propped-up by aid, is allowed persecute its own people instead of doing the sorts of things that aid agencies are doing. I know that there is a consensus that this is a bad thing from reporting of a grant made by the Welsh Assembly – this is a BBC report.

Solution One: some aid via minority groups such as womens' groups and gay groups

My first solution is to channel some of the aid through members of the minority who the Kampala government persecutes. If this minority is locked-up, then there will be nobody to cash the grant cheques and the Kampala Government will risk un-popularity. The trigger for this suggestion was my discovery a few minutes ago:

…is a federation of various voluntary groups including self-help groups in Uganda and other similar groups exist in other African countries. I don't know how they avoid arrest, but a role in processing UK aid would I hope make their arrest less likely – even if they were to pass the money straight-on to other ugandan organisations with no commission to themselves in an easily verifiable way. My hope is that the day the gay organisers are arrested automatically becomes the day that aid cheques cannot reach other Ugandan groups.

Solution Two: conditional tariffs

This would have to be a European Union policy, as it is about Tariffs.

I understand that countries like Uganda tend to get exemption from EU tariffs in recognition of the amount of development work which they still need to do. I consider this a privelage that should be withdrawn if a country's government fails to promote human rights as understood in Europe. I don't think there is an obligation to prop-up governments like the one in Kampala with easy access to EU markets.

Obvious objection to idea 1, which was to channel some aid via opressed minorities

A country with a long tradition of macho male government and overseas donations via macho male clerics does not have a large female of gay voluntary sector. That little which exists might be exposed to more danger and ridicule if caught-up in a diplomatic dispute between the Kampala government and another.

This is why I think the second prong of attack is important. If it is known that sooner or later EU tariffs – possibly even american tariffs – might depend on human rights in a country, then all the more commercial and powerful groups in that country will be on the side of human rights. The people who travel a lot. The people who export things. Maybe some of the very rich looking people seen on the streets of third world capital cities.

Obvious objection to idea number 2: linking EU tariffs to human rights

Tariffs are set by a committee of Euro MPs and many of them are free-traders, willing to impose sanctions in the extreme situations like a coup in Burma but generally believing that wealth leads to rights more than the other way around; the trend is to reduce tariffs and increase the free trade area more and more. Against this background, nobody reading this suggestion has much prospect of changing the minds of this group of MEPs or any party lines that they follow. Even if they did change their minds, they would need a lot of work from Euro civil servants to work-out the detail and to keep-up the pressure till the job was done.

So this is a long drawn-out process. But if it is known that sooner or later EU tariffs – possibly even american tariffs – might depend on human rights in a country, then all the more commercial and powerful groups in that country will be on the side of human rights and politicians will not want to score cheap points against minorities.

Obvious objection to both suggestions: this forum is about removing UK laws

I am suggesting this under a heading of "restoring civil liberties" in a forum mainly aimed at UK voters and taxpayers, not Ugandan ones. I still believe this is the right place.

  • UK development spending aborad is a UK issue
  • UK imports are a UK issue (or European)

For these two reasons I think that the interpretation of universal human rights should be done by someone in the UK or Europe without any shame at imposing on others.

  • Human wrongs abroad effect us here. Wars, economic migrants, political refugees, and requests for aid on our TV screens are all things that effect readers of this forum.
  • Injustice is universal: the knowledge of something that's thought unjust here effects those who know of it here.

For these two reasons again I think the subject is important to write about here,.

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