“On my honour I promise that I will do my best
to uphold our Scout values,
to do my duty to the Queen,
to help other people and to keep the Scout Law.”
For Scouts and Guides around the world, today is Founder’s Day, or World Thinking Day. Countless young people and adults will be renewing their Promise, using one of the many different versions that exist around the world. Today, I will be using the alternative Promise, recently developed by the UK Scout Association; This will not be because I have suddenly lost my faith in God, (I haven’t), but because, today, I want to emphasise the importance of “Scout values”.
Let me explain why.
In the UK, we define the values of Scouting in this way:
- Integrity – We act with integrity; we are honest, trustworthy and loyal.
- Respect – We have self-respect and respect for others.
- Care – We support others and take care of the world in which we live.
- Belief – We explore our faiths, beliefs and attitudes.
- Co-operation – We make a positive difference; we co-operate with others and make friends.
In another part of the world, something is being done by a member of the Scout Movement that I believe contradicts these values in a most public, far reaching and dangerous way.
On 20th December 2013, the Uganda Parliament passed a new law on homosexuality. More details can be found in the BBC report at this link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-25463942. The sponsor of this new legislation in the Uganda Parliament is David Bahati, M.P. David Bahati also happens to be the Chairman of the National Board of the Uganda Scouts Association.
President Museveni of Uganda has signalled that he will sign his assent to the law, so creating one of the most repressive in the world. Homosexuality is a crime in 38 of 54 sub-Saharan countries, but this one even makes it a crime not to report gay people to the police.
On the 21st December 2013, I wrote to the Secretary General and members of the Steering Committee of the World Scout Committee (of which I myself am a member) to raise the matter.
In my letter I noted that “Mr. Bahati’s legislation has broad public support in Uganda and builds upon previous laws that themselves would be perceived by many around the world as draconian. For the Uganda Scouts to take a position contrary to Mr. Bahati’s would be seen to be at odds with most people’s values and could even be seen as illegal. But there are gay and lesbian Scouts and Scout Leaders in Uganda who are at risk of imprisonment purely because of their sexual orientation. Their friends are being pressured to inform on them, with the threat of being imprisoned if they do not. And around the world there will be Scouts and Scout Leaders, parents, teachers, journalists, policy makers, influencers, asking if World Scouting condones Mr. Bahati’s stance. They may also question why Mr. Bahati remains able to hold such a prominent position in Scouting.”
I believe that Scouting’s values include an absolute acceptance of and respect for human rights. Since 1977, the World Organization of the Scout Movement has formally accepted and supported human rights as defined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. This commitment is both reflected in several World Scout Conference resolutions over the years and the status WOSM enjoys within the United Nations Economic and Social Council. In recent months, discussions at the UN have led to a view that LGBT people (just as everyone else “without distinction of any kind”) are entitled to human rights and as such are logically contained in the declarations and agreements. As the UN Secretary General has said recently, “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. All human beings – not some, not most, but all… Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are entitled to the same rights as everyone else. They too are born free and equal”.
Since our last World Scout Conference, held in Brazil in 2011, a special Task Force has been working on the subject of Scouting’s engagement with Human Rights. A specific matter that they have considered, in parallel with, but informed by the discussions going on at the UN, has been the inclusion of LGBT rights within the wider list of human rights. This Task Force is meeting this weekend, to agree its final recommendations. Its members, drawn from a wide range of cultures and faiths, are to be commended for their commitment to what is an exceptionally difficult but vitally important topic.
I am not a member of the Task Force. But my personal views are well known within World Scouting.
I believe that Mr. Bahati’s views and actions are not compatible with those principles and the values of the worldwide Scout Movement. I believe that, because he is Chairman of the National Board of the Uganda Scouts Association, adverse implications for Scouting, nationally and internationally, are likely to be inferred from his involvement.
I love Uganda. I have a relationship with the country and its people that goes back many years. Despite the obvious sensitivity and complexity of the current situation, I believe that it is essential to continue the positive educational and solidarity projects Ugandan Scouting has with other National Scout Organisations around the world. I also think that the benefits of Scouting to the young people of Uganda should not be prejudiced or compromised by such actions as suspending relationships or imposing sanctions. As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
I will be encouraging my colleagues on the World Scout Committee, when we meet next month, to send a clear message to Scouts and the general public internationally. I hope that we will publicly reaffirm our worldwide commitment to Scout values and the Movement’s recognition of the sanctity of Human Rights. I hope that we will recognise the challenging and complex nature of the situation in Uganda for its citizens and for the Scout Movement there. I hope that we will offer our continued support to the wonderful work that the Uganda Scouts Association does in developing good citizens. But I hope that we will also ask those who find their own position incompatible with agreed Scouting values to consider seriously their own ability to play a role within the Movement.
For the sake of clarity, it should be noted that this article, as is the case with all my blog entries, is written in a personal capacity.