Should donors punish recipients with anti-gay laws?

By Jenny Lei Ravelo 17 January 2014

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act that criminalizes gay marriage and civil unions. Should donors cut aid to countries that criminalize homosexual activies and same-sex unions? Photo by: Cabinet Office / CC BY-NC-ND

The debate over whether donors should or not cut aid to countries with homophobic policies has again emerged with the passing of a new law that criminalizes same-sex unions and other homosexual activities in Nigeria.

But the question is far more complex than it sounds — and raises the issue of foreign intervention and the respect for a country’s culture and state sovereignty.

Some of Nigeria’s top donors have expressed concern over the new Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act. For instance, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that “beyond even prohibiting same sex marriage, this law dangerously restricts freedom of assembly, association, and expression for all Nigerians.” But whether such concerns should move donors to consider cutting aid to the country — as opponents of the law argue — is an entirely different matter.

The United States plans to spend $693 million in aid to Nigeria this year, and the United Kingdom 278 million pounds (about $453 million). It’s unclear how much of the U.S. aid will be directed to the government, zero in the case of Great Britain according to the U.K. Department for International Development.

Both donors have threatened in the past to reduce or suspend assistance to countries with similar policies, but in the end nothing happened.

A total of 76 countries — most of them in Africa — have laws criminalizing homosexual activities. In places such as Sudan and Yemen, such acts can even land a person on death penalty. Many of these countries are recipient of foreign aid and Ethiopia is the largest recipient of British ODA.

What do you think donors should do protect the rights of homosexuals in their partner countries? Please let us know by leaving us a comment below.

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About the author

Jenny lei ravelo 400x400
Jenny Lei Ravelo@JennyLeiRavelo

Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex senior reporter based in Manila. Since 2011, she has covered a wide range of development and humanitarian aid issues, from leadership and policy changes at DfID to the logistical and security impediments faced by international and local aid responders in disaster-prone and conflict-affected countries in Africa and Asia. Her interests include global health and the analysis of aid challenges and trends in sub-Saharan Africa.

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