The word is that during the upcoming African Union Summit, to be held in Kampala, Uganda, July 19-27, Egypt will propose a special amendment to the idea of human rights. The proposed agenda item: Promotion of Cooperation, Dialogue and Respect for Diversity in the Field of Human Rights.
Whispers suggest that “diversity” is a polite euphemism for: queer rights ain’t human rights. Dig?
Put otherwise, Egypt wants to follow in the footsteps of the US states that have banned queer marriage and re-instituted discrimination, and in the footsteps of the UN committee that refused to grant IGLHRC “consultative status.”
If these rumors are correct—I have good sources— then they go beyond simple homophobia, which, yes, I know, is never simple.
Egypt’s actions demonstrate fully and dangerously that the struggle over queer rights is fundamentally a struggle about human rights. And that claims for cultural diversity, so often used by many African nations, are claims that challenge the very idea of human rights by asserting the privilege of culture or national sovereignty over the idea of the human.
I am not an expert in human rights. But it can be asserted with some confidence that the very idea of human rights arose, in part, because individual nations and empires abused and destroyed their citizen-subjects.
Yet, “”cultural diversity” has always been part of human rights’ history. Under the rubric of a-cultural diversity, that is, that Kenyans had no culture and were not humans, the British set up their concentration camps in 1952. Not before Nazi Germany. After Nazi Germany. And while an idea of human rights *might* have been part of what led to empire being dismantled, it is not clear to me that it played a prominent role.
I recall this history to suggest that what Egypt suggests is not extraordinary, not a sign of African stubbornness, but part of the long tangle of how human rights have functioned.
Kenya, a signatory to many agreements, has a terrible record on human rights.
Yet, as I read work by Maina wa Kinyatti and Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and the radical group Umoja, I am reminded that progressive Kenyan activists have often used a human rights framework to protest against Kenya’s repressive policies. And they continue to do so.
Introducing a notion of cultural diversity into the very heart of human rights undoes the notion of the human, and not simply in a playful postmodern way. It creates proper humans, defined by their adherence to a specific set of codes that are not transferable across national lines. Just as some queer couples now lose marriage as they travel across state and national lines. Those who travel across national lines in Africa will lose and gain humanity.
Were this resolution to pass, and were I to travel to Egypt, I would lose the protection of human rights.
I am not educated enough nor erudite enough nor imaginative enough to understand the full ramifications of Egypt’s proposal. And I hasten to add that while I trust my sources, this information will only be confirmed once the AU summit is on.
In Kampala, Uganda. One of the most contested sites of human rights on the continent, and not simply on the basis of sexual rights.
Given the de facto African policy of non-intervention, I am not sure Egypt will be challenged on their (rumored) proposal. In fact, it could embolden other African countries to pursue their own diverse versions of human rights.