Local Viewpoints
11:04 am
Tue July 15, 2014

Heinrich Co-Signs Letter Calling For Review Of Trade Agreement With Countries Violating LGBT Rights

Credit Senator Martin Heinrich (D) New Mexico

U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), along with nine other senators, sent a letter to President Obama urging the Administration to examine whether recently enacted laws that severely punish lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual (LGBT) individuals in sub-Saharan African countries should affect those countries' eligibility for duty-free imports under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).  

Authorized in 2000, AGOA has offered tangible incentives for African countries to expand trade, stimulate economic growth, and integrate into the global economy. In order to be eligible for AGOA benefits, a country is forbidden from "engag[ing] in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights." However, in recent years, countries like Uganda and Nigeria have enacted harsh and inhumane LGBT policies that violate internationally recognized human rights protecting LGBT people. These laws and policies severely limit an LGBT person's access to health care, housing, and education, as well as freedom of expression. 

The senators wrote: "We are deeply concerned over a growing trend of laws and proposed legislation targeting LGBT individuals in Africa, which violates the standards set forth in the African Growth and Opportunity Act. We therefore ask that your Administration review Nigeria and Uganda's eligibility for AGOA's trade preference and, if it is determined that those countries are not ‘making continual progress' in meeting the statute's requirements, that you take steps to revoke AGOA eligibility to Nigeria and Uganda. We believe that the discriminatory anti-LGBT laws in those countries represent a clear violation of human rights and hope that the interagency process charged with AGOA's annual review will make this recommendation."

The letter comes just weeks before African leaders join President Obama at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit to foster commitment between the U.S. and Africa.

The letter was also signed by Senators Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Mark Udall (D-Colo.). 

The full text of the letter is below.

The President
The White House 
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW 
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

We write with deep concern over a growing trend of laws and proposed legislation targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals in Africa. These laws, combined with the growing public vitriol by government officials and the media, threaten to usher in an era of widespread oppression of the LGBT community in many African countries. We believe the enforcement of these laws would be a human rights abuse in violation of the standards set forth in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). 

Already this year, both Nigeria and Uganda have enacted laws that impose harsh penalties for homosexual activity and activism on behalf of LGBT people. Despite strong opposition from the United States and many other nations, Nigeria enacted the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act in January, and one month later, Uganda's President signed into law the Anti-Homosexuality Act. In Nigeria, the legislation immediately triggered an outbreak of violent anti-gay attacks. 

As you know, Uganda and Nigeria are among the countries eligible for AGOA, which has allowed for duty-free treatment of certain imports from sub-Saharan African countries since 2000. Congress passed this law with a clear intention to make the benefits of this non-reciprocal agreement contingent on these countries' commitment to human rights. AGOA states that a country is only eligible for preferential trade status if that country "does not engage in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights." 

The jurisprudence in the area of international human rights supports respect of sexual orientation and gender identity as human rights. We therefore ask that your Administration review Nigeria and Uganda's eligibility for AGOA's trade preference and, if it is determined that those countries are not "making continual progress" in meeting the statute's requirements, that you take steps to revoke AGOA eligibility to Nigeria and Uganda in accordance with 19 U.S. C. §2466a(a)(3). We believe that the discriminatory anti-LGBT laws in those countries represent a clear violation of human rights and hope that the interagency process charged with AGOA's annual review will make this recommendation. We further ask that you not restore eligibility until these beneficiary countries have taken steps to eliminate harsh penalties for LGBT persons. 

As the International Trade Commission (ITC) correctly stated when AGOA was first passed, "Congress never intended AGOA to be a blank check for all African countries, without regard to performance. It was meant to offer tangible incentives for African governments to improve their political and economic governance, not to underwrite poor policies." Some of the leaders who promote the benefits of AGOA in their respective countries, including Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni, are the same leaders now presiding over the deterioration of LGBT rights in Africa. By revoking AGOA eligibility, the United States will be sending a clear message that countries must choose between enjoying the benefits of AGOA and violating the human rights of LGBT individuals. We thank you for your attention to this matter and urge you to act swiftly.