Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Ugandan activist inspires in Northern Ireland

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera opening Foyle Pride, Derry, Northern Ireland

By Michael Carchrie Campbell

You are facing arrest at any time, there are death threats published in newspapers concerning you, you are forced to move home frequently as it is unsafe not to do so, and all because of those that you love.

This is the sad, unfortunate, and unacceptable life that 25 August’s speaker at the Amnesty International Belfast Pride Lecture 2011 faces every day of her life in her own country. She says:
"I love my country, I want to live in it. There is nowhere else I want to live."
But it seems that many in the Parliament of her country do not want her there. We were shown many photographs of protests across her country against ‘same-sex marriage’ and ‘sodomy’. We, here in Belfast, could almost hear the ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy‘ campaign of the now Lord Bannside resounding back at us through another medium.

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera was inspirational when she talked of the struggle for freedoms that we in Northern Ireland and across Europe tend to take for granted.

She talked about how it is important for her security and of all the gay community to be ensured:
"We need to be careful – we’re better activists alive than dead."
One of Uganda’s most prominent gay rights activists was murdered, weeks after winning a court case against a newspaper that called for gays to be hanged. David Kato, the advocacy officer for Sexual Minorities Uganda, was beaten to death at his home in Kampala. Police reported that one man was seen fleeing the scene.
“Witnesses told police that a man entered Kato’s home in Mukono at around 1pm . . . hit him twice in the head and departed in a vehicle,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

“Kato died on his way to Kawolo hospital. Police told Kato’s lawyer that they had the registration number of the vehicle and were looking for it.”
Gay rights activists in the country said they suspect his death is connected to the publication of his name, photograph and address in Uganda’s Rolling Stone newspaper late last year, in an article under the headlines, “100 pictures of Uganda’s top homos leak” and “Hang them”. His photo was published on the front page.
Not all doom and gloom

The gay community in Kampala does get on with life we were told. They:
"work hard, but party harder – it gives you time to smile."
But all the time there is a threat, lurking in the back of their minds …

Under the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill, offenders would face death for having sex with a minor or a disabled person, or for infecting their partners with HIV. It would also punish attempted homosexuality as well as the failure of a third party to report homosexual relationships.

Critics of the proposed law say it is not needed, as the Penal Code Act already punishes homosexuality, and that it is based on unproven claims that European gays are clandestinely recruiting in Uganda.

According to the Daily Monitor, the Ugandan Cabinet has:
finally thrown out the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2009 on the advice of Mr Adolf Mwesige, the ruling party lawyer. However, Ndorwa West MP David Bahati, the architect of the Bill, insists the proposed legislation is now property of Parliament and that the Executive should stop “playing hide- and- seek games” on the matter.
If this is the end of the Bill then we should all be giving thanks. However, as Mr Bahati has said, he believes that the Bill is property of Parliament and can still be voted on. I suspect that this Bill will be back to live another day.

Pressure on Uganda

Countries around the world have put pressure on the Ugandan government to stop this proposed law by reducing the aid sent to Uganda. This needs to continue not just until it is clear that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill really has been thrown out – but also until Uganda really starts to protect human rights of all its citizens.

We in Northern Ireland have a special role to play within the United Kingdom. Our Assembly’s All Party Group on International Development works specially with a particular country in Africa – you’ve guessed it – Uganda. Prior to this year’s election to the Assembly back in May, some readers will recall that:
The Rainbow Project’s Education Equality Officer Gavin Boyd asked a question [at Coalition of Aid and Development Agencies' Election Hustings on 6 April]  that as many of the candidates mentioned Uganda how they felt the Assembly could reconcile giving aid or development funding to Uganda or the 50 African states where being gay is illegal.
Most of the politicians agreed that we need to challenge the funding to Uganda. But one, said that
"I have no position on that question."
Who was this person? This was a certain Jim Wells, MLA for South Down, who claimed at that meeting that when it came to his party’s policy on international aid and development he was it, that whatever he said went. It seems that Mr Wells is becoming a man who every time he opens his mouth to comment on something, he puts his foot in it.

Seriously, though, we in the Liberal Democrats in Northern Ireland will continue to fight for fairness, freedom, and equality to ensure that we safeguard liberty, equality and community not just in Northern Ireland but across the world.

What can we do?

According to Kasha, one of the best things we can do, is support the work of her organisation Freedom and Roam Uganda. I spoke briefly with Kasha and said that we have been thinking about her – but I said that it was clear that thinking was not enough – what is needed is action. I am sure that we could all write to the Uganda Ambassador, to the President of Uganda himself, as well as supporting Kasha and FARUG itself.

There are other ways too, we could join Amnesty International which has been instrumental in supporting Kasha and others in Uganda.

Support can be writing letters, financial assistance, voluntary work sharing best practice with the community in Uganda, sending an email. Each of us can do what we feel able.

As Kasha said,
"Receiving an email from a stranger telling you that they support your work, keeps you going, it keeps you going."
Let us all commit to that. Let’s all commit to keeping the struggle going.

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