22nd Oct 2016

EU should not 'lecture' Africa on gay rights

  • Westcott (l): 'We can lecture about lesbian, gays and bisexuals until the cows come home' (Photo: European External Action Service)

The EU's most senior official in charge of relations with Africa has said the European Union should stop lecturing the continent about gay rights.

Nick Westcott, the managing director for Africa in the EU's diplomatic service, said at a debate in Brussels on Wednesday (2 October) that the EU needs a "strong message" when it comes to foreign policy and that the message should be "two-fold."

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It should be "less apologetic about our financial clout and, secondly ... more humble on the cultural issues."

Elaborating on what he meant by "cultural issues," Westcott added: "We can lecture about lesbian, gays and bisexuals until the cows come home. And it will have a wholly counterproductive effect on our usefulness in Africa. We need to focus on fundamental values."

The debate in the EU capital focused on Europe's waning foreign policy clout.

But Westcott, who was appointed to the post in 2011, said the EU still has a "tremendous influence in Africa. We remain the biggest trading partner. We remain the biggest [aid] donor by far."

He indicated that African countries' co-operation with the International Criminal Court (ICC) is another area where the EU has held back on criticism because it does more harm than good.

"On the argument over the ICC, for example, we have recently been very quiet because it is Africans who will make up their minds on this. This is not for us to tell them," he said.

Meanwhile, Westcott's line runs contrary to the EU's overall foreign policy line on the rights of gays and lesbians in partner countries.

In June this year, EU foreign ministers agreed a set of guidelines to "actively promote and protect" the rights of sexual minorities.

The 20-page paper "reaffirms that cultural, traditional or religious values cannot be invoked to justify any form of discrimination, including discrimination against LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex] persons."

Amid Westcott's remark on "fundamental rights," article 21 of the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights also prohibits "discrimination based on … sexual orientation."

According to the British-based NGO Amnesty International, same sex acts are illegal in almost 40 out of 54 African countries.

Gay people are also at risk of violence, with Eric Ohena Lembembe, a gay rights campaigner, murdered at his home in Cameroon in June.

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