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August 06, 2014

Obama Missed Key Opportunity to Discuss Human Rights at Today’s Meetings with African Leaders

Washington, D.C. - As African heads of state gather today at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, Human Rights First expressed disappointment that human rights principles and civil society leaders are not fully incorporated into a meeting focused on investment opportunities in Africa.  The organization believes that human rights protections are fundamental principles for a secure and stable environment necessary for successful economic development and investment.  President Obama is missing an opportunity to publicly illustrate to African leaders and the world what active engagement with civil society can produce, and specifically validate the activists who are working toward the rights of all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, race, religion, or ethnicity.

“By not including leading African activists in today’s Presidential-level discussions about strengthening democracy, improving diplomacy, and boosting security, the White House is missing a momentous opportunity to raise the importance of protecting human rights to the overall joint goals of the leaders,” said Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord. “While the organizers sought out these opportunities in robust side events dedicated to civil society and other issues of human rights, these events were not widely attended by the leaders who most need to hear these messages."  

Earlier this week, Secretary of State John Kerry used his address to the civil society forum to note “we will continue to stand up and speak out for LGBT activists who are working for the day when tolerance and understanding really do conquer hate. And we will do so because we know that countries are stronger and more stable when people are listened to and given shared power.”  

The summit takes place less than a week after the Constitutional Court of Uganda overturned the discriminatory Anti-Homosexuality Act. Although the decision was based on procedural grounds, it is a key step forward for securing Uganda’s LGBT community.  Earlier this year, following Uganda’s passage of the law, the United States conducted a strategic review of its relationship with Uganda and had recently announced extensive sanctions from visa bans to the shifting of funds away from groups that work against equality.   

“To make the sanctions coming out of the review most potent, the administration should immediately review the sanctions it levied against Uganda in light of this decision and quickly announce which sanctions can be lifted,” noted Gaylord.

"The Obama Administration has unequivocally demonstrated global leadership on the human rights of LGBT people, and the president will leave a legacy for his engagement with international civil society." said Gaylord. "That is why it is most disappointing that the White House chose to keep these issues literally on the margins in side events, and exclude civil society and human rights defenders from the same White House meetings corporate CEOs and investors were invited to." 

For more information or to speak with Gaylord contact Mary Elizabeth Margolis at margolisme@humanrightsfirst.org or 212-845-5269.