May 20, 2010 conviction of two men in Malawi for exercising their basic right to express their sexuality as they wish is both shocking and disturbing.

Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza face 14 years in jail simply because they have come out in a country which views homosexuality as a crime.

The government of Malawi has signed up to international treaties on human rights. Indeed the country’s constitution explicitly prohibits discrimination against any of its citizens.

It is a fundamental tenet of my beliefs – and those of the UK government – that those basic human rights should apply to everyone regardless of their sexual orientation.

Human rights underpin our relationship with Malawi as with many other countries. But we must be wary of calls to use aid money as a political weapon.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. Around 40 per cent of its people live on less than 34 pence a day. They face a challenge just to survive and we have a moral obligation to help them in their daily battle against hunger, disease and despair.

Our aid programme is worth almost £80 million this year and it is aimed directly at helping those most in need.

We cannot make them victims along with Mr Chimbalanga and Mr Monjeza.

But that does not mean we will sit idly by. The UK has clearly demonstrated its commitment to promoting basic rights in Malawi through programmes which aim to end violence against women, to deliver fair access to HIV treatment and to encourage better parliamentary scrutiny to allow the people to hold their Government to account.

We, along with our major international partners, will make urgent representations to the government of Malawi to review its laws to ensure that it meets its commitments to human rights.

And we will have this unjust and harsh conviction at the forefront of our minds when we negotiate the way we deliver our aid in future.

We cannot and will not let down the poor of Malawi – for too many of them international aid is a matter of life or death – but we do expect their government to face up to its international and domestic obligations.

Malawi has made significant progress in the field of human rights in recent years but this case shows it still has a long way to go to match words with deeds.

Alan Duncan MP is the minister for international development