April 14, 2011 at 4:02 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Geithner pledges to work against LGBT abuses overseas
Treasury Secretary TImothy Geithner (photo courtesy of wikimedia.org)

Treasury Secretary TImothy Geithner (photo courtesy of wikimedia.org)

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has pledged to voice opposition to LGBT human rights violations overseas through U.S. participation in multilateral development institutions — such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund — and to work to restrict funds from these banks to foreign governments that allow such abuses.

In a letter dated April 8, Geithner writes to gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) that officials in the Treasury Department have been working against LGBT human rights violations as well as abuses against religious minorities. The secretary says he shares the lawmaker’s concern “about the incidents of human rights abuses, including persecutions based on religion and sexual orientation.”

“I want to assure you that we will continue to use our voice and influence in the MDBs, as well as engage with our colleagues at the State Department and other agencies, to seek improvements in the human rights situation in these countries,” Geithner continues. “The Treasury Department will continue to instruct the U.S. Executive Directors at each of the MDBs to seek to channel MDB resources away from those countries whose governments engage in a pattern of gross violations of human rights, and, more generally, to continue to advocate for upholding hunan rights in all countries in which the MDBs operate.”

Geithner adds that the Obama administration has “very consequential funding requests” before Congress for multilateral development institutions and that the level of U.S. funding for these banks “will directly determine our ability to maintain a strong and influential voice in all of these institutions in the years ahead.”

Multilateral development institutions, such as the World Bank, are charged with providing loans to developing countries to reduce poverty by facilitating capital programs. The Treasury Department doesn’t have the authority to mandate policy at these banks, but the United States has an influential role because the institutions rely in part on funds authorized by Congress.

The Geithner letter is in response to an earlier letter that Frank and House Financial Services Committee Chair Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) sent to the secretary on March 30 urging him to work against abuses toward LGBT people and religious minorities in foreign countries through U.S. involvement in multilateral development institutions. Geithner’s letter back to Frank, ranking Democrat on the committee, indicates that an identical letter was sent to Bachus.

The lawmaker’s letted drew attention to an amendment that the House Financial Services Committee approved on March 15 as part of “Views and Estimates on the Administration’s FY2012 Budget,” which outlines fiscal year 2012 priorities for issues under the panel’s jurisdiction, including recommended funds for the Treasury Department and the World Bank. The amendment urges the Treasury Department to advocate that foreign governments receiving assistance from the multilateral development banks don’t engage in gross violations of human rights, such as the denial of freedom of religion and physical persecution based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The passage of the amendment and the exchange between the lawmakers and Geithner takes place as LGBT human rights overseas continued to receive international attention, particularly in Uganda, where legislation that would institute the death penalty for homosexual acts had been pending before parliament. Additionally, David Kato, an activist who was working against the pending measure, was brutally murdered after a publication in the country identified him as gay.

In response to Geithner’s letter, Frank said he appreciates Geithner has made “a special point” of recognizing the importance of the issues raised by the amendment that was adopted by the House Financial Services Committee.

“This clearly has application to Uganda because of the severe attacks on LGBT people there that the government continues to condone and encourage,” Frank said. “I am pleased that America will now be engaged in trying to do what we can to block such practices wherever they occur.”

Harry Gural, a Frank spokesperson, said Uganda has received more than $2 billion debt relief from the World Bank and the IMF. Support for the country, Gural said, includes 23 active World Bank projects and 3 proposed projects.

Bachus’ office didn’t respond on short notice to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on the Geithner letter.

Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, said he hopes the letter is “the beginning of a rich dialogue” with the Treasury Department on how the United States can use its influence at multilateral development banks to promote human rights for LGBT people.

“It’s good that the discussion has started, but a lot more needs to be done to leverage the influence of the United States more effectively within these powerful institutions,” Bromley said.

Further, Bromley said the United States should work to ensure LGBT people overseas have access to the opportunities that multilateral development institutions provide.

“In addition to channeling resources away from countries that violate fundamental human rights, as Secretary Geithner appropriately suggests, the United States should also ensure that LGBT communities participate equally in the life-changing social and economic opportunities that the banks provide in developing countries,” Bromley said.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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