I am 45-year old teacher by profession from Uganda who works as a human rights defender struggling to achieve equal rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex community (LGBTI).
I work as the Advocacy/Litigation officer at Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) whose vision is to see a liberated LGBTI community in Uganda.
Discovering rather late about my sexuality helped me to make informed decisions. Contributing to the liberation struggle in South Africa when working with the Gay and Lesbian Coalition for Equality in the early 1990s opened up my eyes and gave me morale when I returned to Uganda in 1998 to fight for the liberation of the LGBTI community at home. It was not an easy venture: no sooner had I started than the police arrested me, claiming that I was spreading immorality in defiance of Ugandan laws against homosexuality.
I spent Christmas 1998 behind bars at Kawempe police station. My brother bailed me out on a police bond even though I told him to leave me in prison because I was liberating my fellow sexual minorities from discriminatory and oppressive sodomy laws. My brother advised me that I was on my own and there were no other known activists so he pleaded on my behalf and got me out of the cells. Many other arrests would follow. I am currently suing the government as a result of one of these arrests.
With the help of the Dean of the Faculty of Law of Makerere University and a local bishop who was counseling sexual minorities, I discovered a number of gay people, and so in 2004 we created an organization called Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG). Since then, we have carried on the struggle. Right now we are facing one of the biggest challenges of all, proposed legislation that provides for the death penalty for certain kinds of homosexual activity.
With hate fueled in the masses, hate crimes have become rampant.
Homophobia in Uganda has been worsened by the arrival of certain members of the religious right from America, claiming they had come to save the traditional family. Religious leaders carry weight with policy makers in Uganda, as 85% of Ugandans are Christians and 12% are Muslims. With hate fueled in the masses, hate crimes have become rampant. I have been making endless circuits of police stations, courts, prisons and local councils to document human rights violations, including discrimination and violence. I have tried to enlighten local leaders and the public to differentiate between homosexuality, homosexual acts and sexual violence to try to prevent them from accusing innocent gay people of all of these.
We have documented cases such as that of 21-year old Brian Pande, who died shortly after his release from Maluku prison on court bail. We hope to bring cases against the Ugandan government, and if that fails, we intend to appeal to international bodies as these are fundamental human rights violations. Our ultimate aim is to repeal these damaging laws.
At the Centre for Applied Human Rights at the University of York, I am enjoying being away from my usual stressful environment, with time to reflect on the achievements and shortcomings of our human rights strategies. Networking with other human rights defenders allows me to enrich myself with better strategies and tools to attain the vision. Interacting with the MA students exposes me to new perspectives and helps me design more liberal and up-to-date strategies to take the task a little bit further towards success.
Working on this issue in such a hostile environments often brings defenders into conflict with the state and puts us at a risk. We need help to minimize our vulnerability. We can find ourselves with few or no resources required to act very fast in a number on scenarios in order to record, monitor and document human rights abuses. We also face a lot of frustration and burnout since there is little psycho-social support on the ground. At York I believe we can identify strategies to help defenders facing this kind of stress. My ultimate goal while I am here is to find ways to move beyond our current challenge (the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill) towards an international strategy of decriminalizing homosexuality to see the UNIVERSALITY of human rights in REALITY.
Centre for Applied Human Rights statement
27 January 2011
David Kato's death is deeply distressing and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this desperately sad time. David Kato was one of the human rights defenders hosted by the University's Centre for Applied Human Rights.
The Centre's Director, Professor Paul Gready, said: "We are all reeling from this news. David was with us in York for four months last year and he felt his time here helped him to re-focus his work in Uganda. He was a hugely popular and engaging personality and his untimely death is difficult to comprehend.
"We shall miss him immensely. The sexual minorities in Uganda have lost an invaluable champion."
Tributes after gay activist David Kato is murdered - Jennifer Bell, The Press, Thurs 3 Feb 2011 press-tribute-david (PDF , 132kb)
At the start of January, David was celebrating a major success. He had persuaded a Ugandan court to issue an injunction against a local newspaper that had demanded that he and other identified gay activists be killed. In his own words, it was a "precedent in the liberation trouble of the LGBTI community in this country, region, and world wide".
"If a person is only worthy of death", the court had said, "then that person's dignity is placed at the lowest ebb". Just over three weeks later, David was murdered in his own home.
Almost exactly a year ago, David arrived at the Centre for Applied Human Rights to undertake a protective fellowship, designed to support human rights defenders at risk. He wanted support in his fight against the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which threatened the death penalty for "repeat offenders". He went to Brussels to lobby EU officials, and met Margaret Sekaggya, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, also from Uganda. Above all, he was keen to learn how about principled negotiation techniques. "These have helped not only me but my community to learn how to be patient with radical s and fundamentalists , reasoning with them together, avoiding "name and shame", he wrote after his return to Uganda. "Very different from those people who tried to physically assault me at court!" he added. And very different from those who would take his life.
Under the circumstances, it would be too easy to make David out to be a plaster saint. He certainly wasn’t. He had a great sense of mischief and loved to shock with scurrilous stories. He complained at length about the weight restrictions when flying home to Uganda – his bags were overflowing with presents for nephews and nieces, which he had spent weeks buying before his departure.
It is difficult to believe that there will be no more emails from him, calling us “comrades” and rallying us once more to the cause. The world is poorer for his loss.
Lena Barrett, Fellowship Scheme Manager, 2008-2011
We have red, white, brown, black and yellow people. We are different. Some like meat others do veges and who has fought over that? The cold works for someone, I like the sun. WE ARE DIFFERENT. One is heterosexual another homosexual, it is just PEOPLE with different choices. Where do we get off deciding that one's choice warrants murder? No religion or culture condones murder so when did we let hate rule us to make such choices and kill people just because we are different? As an African, Christian and female human rights activist I am greatly angered and saddened by your death David. You where a genuinely good person who fought for what you believed in and I know your work will live forever. Our attitudes need to change and we all agree to disagree over issues that cause argument. In whatever way a person LIVES their life it is their fundamental right to LIVE and we should give them that right.
Rest In Peace David.
Sharon, CAHR Fellow 2008
No words can convey the condemnation due to the perpetrators of David Kato's heinous and cowardly murder; but I condemn them nonetheless in the strongest terms possible. David was a victim of sustained hatred by a section of the Ugandan media, politicians and religious elite and especially some U.S. organized evangelical groups that operate across several African countries because of his dedication to the struggle for the rights of lesbians, gays, transsexuals and intersex people of Uganda. This hatred culminated in his being beaten to death in his house on the 26th of January 2011.
David was a leading opponent of Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009, which if passed will permit the death penalty or life imprisonment for some homosexual acts. When I met him last year during our Protective Fellowship here at the University of York's Centre for Applied Human Rights, Kato radiated optimism that a Uganda and East Africa where the equality of all human beings without any form of discrimination or exclusion was possible. He carried this message across the UK during his speaking assignments to drum up support against the Anti-Gay Bill 2009 with courage but he also knew of the danger involved in his work; in an interview with supporters in Brussels last year during one of his speaking tours, David talked about some 'faith-based hate' that was driving Ugandan homophobia:
"What I want the world to see is the hate, the hate which is behind this bill, the faith-based—whatever they are spreading, OK? Will Uganda be able to understand the faith-based hate behind the bill? There's the [faith-based hate], which is causing—a genocide might come up. We are going to die." (David Kato in Brussels)
When he returned to Uganda, he continued with his campaigns and thanks to his efforts and those of his colleagues, the Bill's introduction in Parliament has been delayed this far. Last year, after his photo had been carried repeatedly by a section of the Ugandan Press, some calling for his execution, he did not fear or cower at such threats, but instead rededicated himself in his work for a Uganda where each enjoyed their human dignity regardless of their sexual orientation. He, with two others, subsequently sued one of the Ugandan weekly tabloids, Rolling Stone, for having listed him in an article on what it called Uganda's "top" 100 gays and lesbians, alongside a yellow banner that read "Hang Them."
He had recently won this court battle after the judge ruled that the tabloid had violated their constitutional rights to privacy and ordered compensation as well as an injunction prohibiting any further publication of the identities and home locations of individuals labelled homosexuals. When I congratulated him on this milestone and inquired on his safety on face book, his response was, "Trying keeping safe with repercussions of judgement as fundamentalists think judgement was in favour of terrorists! Thx."
I send my heartfelt condolences to the Ugandan LGBTI community who are mourning the death of one of their forefront soldiers. I realize that this is a difficult moment for the community, but it would not be right to give in to fear or intimidation – that is what his killers would want. David Kato would most certainly not want that. That is why they must re-double their efforts to hold the Government of Uganda, The Ugandan Press, and the Ugandan Religious Leadership to account for their role in the murder of David Kato. DAVID, REST IN PEACE MY FRIEND!!!!
Njoroge, CAHR Fellow 2009/10
David demonstrated remarkable bravery on a daily basis. His bravery not only championed his own right to free expression but also strove to give voice to those who could not find - or were not granted - their own space to speak. I will remember David for this but also for his propensity to shock with his stories, his ability to get me to question my own comfort zones and his insistence that as long as drink remained we should continue to party. I find some solace in the outpouring of shock and support over the last week, demonstrating that his memory will live on through the work of human rights defenders, and in particular the work of LGBTI organisations, around the world. I hope his memory will inspire us to recognise the sacrifices and contribution of human rights defenders, to keep fighting for tolerance and to find our own voice.
Lucy Harding, MA student: class of 2009-2010
I've been working all my life with many human rights defenders, men and women that spend their lives trying to change the conditions that lead to crimes against human rights. Seeing, listening, living and working each and every day with this situation, some of them, along the way, lose their sense of indignation and do their job as a mechanical occupation. That never happened to David. Everyone he ever talked to began to share his indignation about what was happening in Uganda. And I have to say that he was brave. He fought in a context where to be gay or lesbian is considered something so bad that it should be punished with the death penalty. And what killed David was precisely that idea.
Just after we celebrated the rejection of the anti-homosexuality bill in his country, the alternative of extrajudicial execution arose, and came to his door, and took his life. What the homophobes couldn't do by law, they did by force. The state must now make the only possible reparation of immediately stopping the promotion of discrimination and hate based on sexual orientation and punish everyone who promotes it.
Diana, Fellow 2010
Fare thee well, brother, friend and comrade David Kato. In life, you were a courageous man, you were always ready to defend your rights even when faced with threats to your life. Those who have directly and indirectly caused your death are cowards, cowards who are only contented when they distort and demonize others' diversities.
Mary, HRD Fellow 2010
I'm extremely saddened and heartbroken to hear the news of the murder of our dear friend David Kato. He was a friendly, warm and caring individual who touched many people’s lives and ultimately sacrifices his life fighting for the most basic human rights which we all should expect to have. I feel extremely honoured and fortunate to have met this great man. I was really looking forward to a reunion that we had all planned with David included which was to take place in Kenya. I believe that although David's death came under such sad and evil circumstances that it will bring to light the seriousness of the cause of which he was fighting for and hopefully open the eyes of the world to the horrific injustices that are being carried out all around the world.
Sadiya, MA student: class of 2009-2010
David revelled in difference and delighted in his own sexuality. He was frank, funny, and fearless. He enjoyed playing provocateur - not for its own sake, but in order to "out" homophobia, probe the limits of toleration, and push the human rights movement past its comfort zones of privacy and non-discrimination for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons. His brutal murder is both a terrible loss and a renewed provocation to further David's unfinished work.
Lars Waldorf, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Applied Human Rights