Thursday, 8 November 2018
I thank the Chair for allowing me to raise the deterioration of the human rights of the LGBT community in Tanzania. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon. I think we will all agree it is absolutely appalling and shocking that LGBT people are being targeted and arrested in contravention of many international human rights agreements to which Tanzania has signed up. It is important to put this in context. A special task force has been convened to round up members of the LGBT community. LGBT people in Tanzania are facing increasing threats. Members of the LGBT community have been arrested, targeted, harassed and charged with unrelated offences. Since 2015, under the regime of President Magufuli, there has been a deterioration in human rights and the rule of law in Tanzania. I put it to the Minister of State that it is a disgrace that this is being allowed to happen. It is a contravention of justice. I am calling on our Government to intervene at every level to protest the establishment of a task force under the remit of the governor of Dar es Salaam. The Tanzanian Government has said that it is his opinion, but having an opinion does not give a person the right to have a 17-member or ten-member task force. It is wrong to call for the outing and arrest of LGBT people.
I know that Mr. Paul Sherlock is a very proactive ambassador in the region. I am aware that Tanzania is one of the fastest growing countries in Africa. I welcome the EU's decision to recall its ambassador to Tanzania. I am pleased that the EU is considering a review of its relationship with Tanzania. I do not necessarily think that recalling ambassadors is always the right thing to do, but on this occasion there would be merit in our Government intervening to make its case and state its position. I appreciate that the Tánaiste has written to the Tanzanian Government, but our approach must be about more than writing a letter. We must bring people with us.
I am glad the Minister of State is here. I know he is very proactive. It is worrying that the governor is looking for reports of gay people. This is not just about gay people, it is also about people who work in HIV clinics and non-governmental organisations to promote human rights. The overarching strategy that is emanating from Tanzania seems to involve violating privacy rights in a way that infringes on basic human rights. We have international agreements which must be upheld. I thank the Minister of State for being here. I look forward to his reply.
I thank the Senator for raising this important issue and giving me the opportunity to report on the steps the Government has taken and will continue to take to assist the LGBTI community in Tanzania. Ireland's support for the LGBTI community is clearly situated within a human rights framework. No one should be stigmatised or persecuted on the grounds of sexual orientation. Ireland engages with other countries at the UN Human Rights Committee to promote human rights for all. We specifically promote further support for the principle that sexual orientation should not be grounds for discrimination.
I learned with dismay last week that the regional commissioner of Dar es Salaam had called on the public to identify members of the LGBTI community to his office, thereby feeding prejudice against members of that community. It appears that there have been some submissions to his office. It has been reported that activists and members of the LGBTI community have gone into hiding across Tanzania. As the Senator will be aware, the Tanzanian statute books continue to have laws from the colonial era which can lead to homosexual acts being punished with terms of imprisonment of up to 30 years. When the Tánaiste learned of these developments, he immediately wrote to his counterpart, the Tanzanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Mahiga, to express his deep concern at the regional commissioner's statements. The Tánaiste asked Mr. Mahiga and the Tanzanian Government to disown the statements and to bring such provocative action to an end. Last Sunday, which was two days later, Mr. Mahiga spoke on behalf of the Tanzanian Government to distance himself from the regional commissioner's views. He characterised the regional commissioner's views as personal and not reflective of the position of the Tanzanian Government. He reaffirmed the Tanzanian Government's commitment to upholding its international human rights commitments. In light of Mr. Mahiga’s statement, it seems likely that current tensions will abate.
The Department of Foreign Affairs, through Irish Embassy in Dar es Salaam, which works with other EU member state embassies in the city, will continue to actively monitor the situation in Dar es Salaam and more widely across Tanzania. We will continue to engage directly with Tanzanian Government and civil society on the issue of human rights protections for vulnerable groups, specifically with regard to members of the LGBTI community.
I thank the Minister of State. He will agree that the words of the Tanzanian Government provide little comfort. There is real fear and anxiety among people who want to avoid arrests and forms of discrimination that have no place in any society. The President of Tanzania has form in this area. The Tanzanian Government continues to have the punishment of homosexual acts on its statute books. We are trying to bring a cultural change in this regard to the continent of Africa, parts of eastern Europe and other parts of the world.It is important to recognise that the Minister of State and the Tánaiste are supportive and I welcome their interventions. The President of Tanzania has form in this respect. The deputy health Minister defended a threat to publish a list of gay people by saying: "Give me their names". All of us who live in a free society recognise that has no place and no part to play.
Mr. Makonda, a staunch ally of the President, said he expected international criticism for the move, but added: "I prefer to anger those countries than to anger God." The God who I believe in is a God of justice, mercy and love who loves us all unconditionally. We must make every effort and take every opportunity at international level to call out this disgraceful behaviour.
I thank the Senator for his comments. The Government places the protection of human rights at the centre of our foreign policy. It pervades everything that we do in that area. Officials in my Department will continue to closely monitor the situation in Tanzania and across east Africa where we have increasing concerns about the number of restrictions being placed on free speech, freedom of association, the preservation of a free press and the infringement of human rights. That tightening of civil society space is of concern to us all. We will continue to work closely with the partners in civil society, including in-country partners, to support efforts to protect and promote rights and ensure that the voices of those who are vulnerable are heard and amplified. This is a sensitive area of engagement and it requires a long-term commitment to support partners operating on the front line or protecting and promoting human rights in what can be difficult environments.