Human Rights Pressure in the Case of Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill

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Title: Human Rights Pressure in the Case of Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Author: Heloma, Outi
Other contributor: Helsingin yliopisto, Valtiotieteellinen tiedekunta, Politiikan ja talouden tutkimuksen laitos
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political and Economic Studies
Helsingfors universitet, Statsvetenskapliga fakulteten, Institutionen för politik och ekonomi
Publisher: Helsingfors universitet
Date: 2013
Language: eng
Thesis level: master's thesis
Discipline: Development Studies
Abstract: This thesis studies the Western countries’ responses to Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Member of Parliament David Bahati introduced the Bill to the Ugandan Parliament in October 2009, and it immediately caused an international outcry. Several high-level politicians from Western countries as well as international human rights organizations were quick to express their opposition and strong condemnation of the bill. The object of this thesis is to look into these statements and comments by the Western actors and scrutinize the reasons why they were so strongly against the bill. A further aim is to analyse the possible effects that these responses are causing in Uganda considering the social standing of sexual minorities. The data is collected from online sources and consists of newspaper articles, blog writings, press releases and speeches that comment on the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill or the situation of sexual minorities in Uganda on a more general level. The data is analysed qualitatively by searching for recurring themes and ideas that arise from the comments. Several recurring themes are recognized, among them references to human rights, international and domestic laws and state relationships. The possible consequences of the responses are analysed by reflecting the arguments to the theory on socialization of international human rights norms into domestic practices by Risse and Sikkink. The theory is a representation of strong advocacy to the international human rights pressure. Further evaluation of the data is made also based on alternative theories and views. The human rights theme comes up as the most essential theme in the data. The appeals by the international actors to reject the Anti-Homosexuality Bill are almost entirely based on human rights language and arguments. The main reason for the Western actors to oppose the bill is their commitment to the universal human rights regime, which this bill is seen to violate. Ideas of universalism win over ideas of cultural relativism. The Ugandan particularities, and the historical, social and political context of society is not paid much attention to. Risse and Sikkink do not see a great problem with this kind of approach as they highlight the importance of international pressure. In contrast, for example Epprecht, calls for more attention to context and more focus on local action in order to gain long-term results in the efforts to secure better rights for sexual minorities. The main conclusion is that, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is being condemned because it is seen as a serious violation of the human rights norms that the Western actors are committed to. Uganda is also considered to be obliged to follow these norms under international human rights agreements and treaties. However, the motives of the Western actors are not always solely based on a concern about the rights of the Ugandan minorities. Political aspects such as state’s commitment to certain type of foreign politics or its reputation in the international arenas are also at play. Furthermore, while international pressure may be an important factor in improving the status of sexual minorities in a given society, basing the arguments almost solely on human rights language is not necessarily the best way to go about trying to make an impact in different cultural contexts. In Uganda human rights are often strongly associated with the West and colonialism, and are therefore a foreign concept that many wish to reject. Cooperation between international and local actors and more careful consideration of the historical, political and social context of the target society may help in finding alternative, and perhaps more efficient ways to approach the issue.

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