Saturday, February 24, 2024

Botswana ÔÇô US diplomatic ties stress tested

The clash of ideals between President Lt Gen Ian Khama and his American counterpart Barack Obama played itself out in the open this week when the American government publicly declared that it will fight in the corner of the Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) who are currently embroiled in a marathon court battle with the government of Botswana.
The US Ambassador to Botswana Earl Miller told the LEGABIBO Film Festival this week that, “the United States Government will continue to work with organizations such as LEGABIBO to assist them in their mission. We must work with organizations like LEGABIBO because the promotion of human rights and therefore the promotion of LGBT rights is a fundamental part of our foreign policy.”
Ambassador Miller’s statement comes in the wake of an appeal filed by the government of Botswana against last year’s High Court decision to allow LEGABIBO to legally register their organisation with the Registrar of Societies.
Ambassador Miller explained that the American government was “working to overturn laws that criminalise consensual same-sex conduct in countries around the world.”
The American government’s decision to support LEGABIBO is in line with a new legislation that has been introduced in the U.S. Congress making the rights of sexual minorities a foreign policy priority for the United States.
President Barack Obama has instructed officials across government to “ensure that US diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of lesbian, gay, and transgender persons” around the world.
Under the move, legal, moral, and financial support will be boosted for gay rights organisations, emergency assistance will be sent to groups or individuals facing threats, and asylum in the US will be offered to people forced to flee anti-gay persecution in their countries, Obama said.
President Obama’s position clashes with that held by the Office of the President in Botswana. WikiLeaks disclosed recently that the Botswana Office of the President believes that homosexuality offends Botswana’s traditions and culture.
The issue of homosexuality between Botswana and the American government has been simmering below the surface for some time. A few years ago the Botswana government refused to issue an exemption certificate (the diplomatic residency permit) for the adopted child of a gay American diplomat. The then American Ambassador, Andrew Nolan reported that, “according to the Chief of Protocol in the Office of the President, Ms. Daphne Kadiwe, who was speaking confidentially, it is primarily an issue of law and precedent precipitated by having both men listed on the child’s birth certificate. According to her, Botswana has already discouraged three other diplomatic missions from assigning same-sex couples to Botswana. There are (largely unenforced) laws making homosexuality illegal here. They wish to avoid giving the impression of condoning such activity which is not only illegal but also contrary to Botswana’s traditions and culture.”
Ambassador Miller this week explained that, “President Obama’s administration has greatly accelerated the LGBT role in our international human rights policy and prominently included LGBT rights in the 2015 National Security Strategy.
The Department of State has just appointed a Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons in the form of veteran diplomat Randy Berry. When Secretary John Kerry announced Special Envoy Berry’s appointment, he reaffirmed that “defending and promoting the human rights of LGBT persons is at the core of our commitment to advancing human rights globally ÔÇô the heart and conscience of our diplomacy. That’s why we’re working to overturn laws that criminalise consensual same-sex conduct in countries around the world. It’s why we’re building our capacity to respond rapidly to violence against LGBT persons, and it’s why we’re working with governments, civil society, and the private sector through the Global Equality Fund to support programs advancing the human rights of LGBT persons worldwide.”


Read this week's paper