- The influential European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Louis Michel, is reported to have been "shocked" by the rushed move of the Burundian parliament to criminalise same-sex relations.
Michael Cashman, an MEP representing Britain, was surprised by the sudden decision in Burundi, immediately raising the issue with EU Commissioner Michel, asking him to bring the matter up with the government of Burundi.
According to Mr Cashman, the EU Commissioner was not pleased by the Burundian decision. "The Commissioner expressed that he was shocked to learn of this law and stressed that this is a very serious issue," Mr Cashman said in a statement.
Both Mr Cashman and Commissioner Michel were present at a Africa, Caribbean and Pacific-European Union joint parliamentary assembly in Port Morseby, New Guinea. The Burundian parliament's decision to criminalise homosexuality was brought up at the assembly. Commissioner Michel "told the Assembly he will travel to Burundi and discuss his concerns with the government," according to Mr Cashman.
The engagement by the EU comes after several EU member countries have made put the fight for homosexual rights around the world on their foreign policy and human rights policy agendas. Several EU members also lobby for gay rights as part of their development aid to African nations. The EU and its members by distance are Burundi's major donors.
The decision by the Bujumbura parliament to criminalise same-sex acts was reported to have been made in a surprisingly speedy fashion, taking outraged pro-gay activists in the country and abroad by surprise. Burundian President Nkurunziza still has to sing the bill into law, but local activists hold that it is likely he will.
The new legislation, if passed, will criminalise homosexuality for the first time in the history of the country. It will make same-sex acts punishable by between three months and two years in prison, along with a substantial fine.
"The government has moved this bill quickly and unjustly through the legislative process," said a representative of the local Association pour le Respect et les Droits des Homosexuels (ARDO). "The whole process has happened over the course of a weekend, with no input from civil society or general discussion about the issue of homosexuality and freedom of expression within Burundi."
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