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REVEALED: Government has Trade Deals with 23 Countries that Criminalise Homosexuality

As football’s record on LGBTIQ rights goes under the spotlight during the World Cup, Sian Norris reports on the Government’s trading agreements with anti-LGBTIQ regimes

A man wears the Pride flag. Photo: Sipa US/Alamy

REVEALED:Government has Trade Deals with 23 Countries that Criminalise Homosexuality

As football’s record on LGBTIQ rights goes under the spotlight during the World Cup, Sian Norris reports on the UK’s trading agreements with anti-LGBTIQ regimes

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The Government has signed trade deals with 23 countries in which LGBTIQ people are criminalised and plans to launch five more, Byline Times can reveal. 

This newspaper’s analysis comes as British footballing stars such as David Beckham face intense criticism for their relationship with Qatar during the 2022 World Cup. The country has draconian anti-LGBTIQ laws

While it is right to examine how nations like Qatar use sport to whitewash their human rights abuses, the UK Government’s relationship with anti-LGBTIQ regimes should also be scrutinised.

According to the list of UK trade deals, the Government has trading relationships with eight countries that enforce imprisonment, hard labour and fines for people who break anti-LGBTIQ laws: Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Papua New Guinea, and Tunisia. 

It has launched free trade deal discussions with five more nations that criminalise LGBTIQ people: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar.

Then UK Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said she was “excited” by the launch’s “potential”.

Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar enforce the death penalty for those found guilty of breaching anti-LGBTIQ laws. The decision to court anti-LGBTIQ nations for free trade agreements suggests a regression on the part of the UK Government’s commitment to equal rights.

The Government has active trade agreements with 15 more countries which criminalise LGBTIQ people but where the laws are not enforced, including numerous Commonwealth nations.


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Trade deals have also been signed with 32 countries where homosexuality is legal but where same-sex marriages are banned or not recognised, and where gay couples are prohibited from adopting children. These include European and Latin American nations. 

Leanne MacMillan, director of global programmes at charity Stonewall, told Byline Times: ‘It’s vital that governments use trade opportunities to open up discussions with different countries about LGBTIQ equality and ensure that human rights are embedded as a core part of trade deals and agreements.”

The Government cancelled a global conference on LGBTIQ rights that was due to take place earlier this year after it was boycotted by more than 100 rights groups. 

Labour MP Nadia Whittome told Byline Times that the Government “should be using trade deals to strengthen protections for LGBTIQ people around the world” and “raising LGBTIQ rights as a key condition in negotiations”.

“Given the Conservative Party’s recent record, from its flip-flopping on the conversion therapy ban to leadership contenders fanning the flames of hatred against trans people, I hold little hope that this will happen, with trade deals going ahead regardless of LGBTIQ people’s treatment,” she added.

Anti-LGBTIQ Violence

In Cameroon – where homosexuality is illegal and punishable with imprisonment – there have been reports of police rounding up and abusing gay men. Between last February and April alone, security forces arbitrarily arrested, beat or threatened at least 24 people, including a 17-year-old boy, for alleged consensual same-sex conduct or gender nonconformity.

Police have repeatedly targeted the LGBTIQ community in Tunisia and threatened individuals with rape and murder. LGBTIQ people in Morocco have been subjected to online abuse. Egypt has one of the worst records of homophobic violence in the Middle East and North Africa region and is one of seven countries that uses forced anal exams to ‘prove’ a person’s homosexuality.

In Kenya – where those found to have committed sex acts with a person of the same sex are punished with up to 14 years in prison – there have been high-profile murders of LGBTIQ people: the non-binary lesbian Sheila Lumumba was raped and murdered in April, with a suspect finally charged in July. Their death followed the murder of Joash Mosoti, a gay man who was killed in Mombasa last year; and of an intersex woman, Rose Mbesa, in Trans Nzoia County.

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Sian Norris

The UK has also signed trade deals where LGBTIQ rights are regressing, most notably in Ghana where the Government has proposed a bill that would further criminalise the community and its allies. The bill would increase the prison sentence for LGBTIQ people and criminalise ‘cross-dressing’. 

“In 2022, the UK Government must prioritise as part of its bilateral and multilateral economic and trade relationships human rights reforms and fulfil its stated commitment to being a global leader in LGBTIQ rights,” said Leanne MacMillan.

As for the hoped-for trade deals with five Gulf nations, in 2019 Saudi Arabia executed five gay men, while a recent report in the Guardian revealed how gay Qataris were recruited as agents in order to avoid being tortured. 

A Government spokesperson said the UK “is a leading advocate for human rights around the world” and “our trading relationships enable us to raise human rights concerns and encourage states to respect international law”.

“We are committed to the principle of non-discrimination on any grounds and promoting and protecting human rights,” they added.

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