Denmark withholds aid to Tanzania over homophobia

Persecution of LGBTQ+ people by a Tanzanian governor appears to have resulted in Denmark withdrawing millions of kroner in aid to the developing country.

Denmark withholds aid to Tanzania over homophobia
Minister for International Development Ulla Tørnæs. File photo: Ólafur Steinar Gestsson/Ritzau Scanpix

Minister for International Development Ulla Tørnæs said in parliament this week that the government will withhold 65 million kroner which was scheduled to be paid to the east African country this year.

“I am very concerned over the negative developments in Tanzania, most recently with the completely unacceptable homophobic statements from a commissioner,” Tørnæs, who did not name the official in question, said.

“Respect for human rights is one of the most important priorities in Denmark’s foreign partnerships. That includes the right not to be discriminated against based on sexual orientation,” she added.

Paul Makonda, governor of Dar-es-Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania, recently called for residents to denounce gay and lesbian people to authorities.

According to a report by broadcaster DR, Makonda also said that he would appoint investigators to search for homosexual people on social media in order to arrest them.

Up to 30 years in prison can be given in Tanzania for being in a same-sex relationship.

The east African country was the second-largest beneficiary of Danish foreign aid in 2017, receiving a total of 349 million kroner, but Makonda’s comments have thrown the future of that economic backing into doubt.

“Several forms of freedom are under increasing pressure. That’s why, in my view, it is necessary to re-evaluate Denmark’s engagement in Tanzania,” Tørnæs said.

The minister has also postponed a scheduled visit to the country.

She will discuss with EU counterparts later this month the future form of aid to Tanzania.

“We will thoroughly assess the situation together. That is the best way to follow up on our goals for development, democracy and human rights for the people of Tanzania,” she said.

Makonda does not regret the comments, for which he has received international criticism, DR reports.

“I prefer to anger (critical) countries than to anger God,” he said according to the broadcaster.

Tørnæs will redistribute the aid money that had been allocated to Tanzania, with 40 million kroner now set to be given to local organisations that promote human rights.

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Denmark to criminalise hate speech against trans people

The Danish government wants to add new terms to the country’s hate speech laws to protect trans people from discrimination.

Denmark to criminalise hate speech against trans people
Photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix

The Social Democratic minority government plans to add the terms gender identity (kønsidentitet), gender expression (kønsudtryk) and sex characteristics (kønskarakteristika) to section 266b of the criminal law code – commonly known as the ‘Racism Paragraph’.

Newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad, which was first to report the proposed law change, writes that it would be made with the intention of preventing hate speech against trans people.

The law change would mean that hate speech against trans and intersexual people would be treated as a crime on the same basis as all homophobic and racist speech.

The proposal is supported by left wing parties the Red Green Alliance and Socialist People’s Party, with the Social Liberal party also in support in principle. As such, it has a theoretical parliamentary majority in support.

Denmark’s racism paragraph was originally enacted in 1939 in an effort to prevent antisemitism.

Given the cultural value placed on free speech in Denmark, it has traditionally been interpreted in a way that still allows pointed statements to be made in public debate without these being judged as racist, according to an expert on the law.

READ ALSO: Why Denmark's free speech tradition is not a free pass for Quran burning

“The paragraph works well,” University of Southern Denmark law professor Sten Schaumburg-Müller told Kristeligt Dagblad.

“You have to reach a certain level of offensiveness before statements break the law, and this is out of consideration for free speech,” he explained.

“For example, you would have to say that a particular group are cancerous tumours or rodents that must be exterminated in order for it to be criminal,” the professor elaborated.

Minister for equality Mogens Jensen declined to comment to the newspaper on plans to update the law, but the Social Democratic spokesperson, Lars Aslan Rasmussen, confirmed its intention to prevent hate speech and incitement to criminal activity.