Saturday, 15 October 2011

Video: Major human rights award goes to Ugandan lesbian

Martin Ennals Award Ceremony 2011 - Kasha from True Heroes Films on Vimeo.

Picture Screengrab from awards ceremony
By Paul Canning

Besides the Nobel Peace Prize, the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders is the main award of the global human rights movement.

It is a unique collaboration among ten of the world’s leading human rights organizations.

The 2011 prize was presented to Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera in Geneva 13 October by High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Deputy Kyung-wha Kang.

The ceremony included a very moving film about Nabagesera's work made by True Hero films.

Nabagesera is an Ugandan LGBT activist and founder/Executive Director of Freedom and Roam Uganda.

She became engaged in LGBT rights in Uganda when she was just 21, and has since played a leading role.

She told Kathambi Kinoti of AWID in 2010:

"Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG) is the only exclusively lesbian, bisexual and transgender organization in Uganda. It was started by three lesbian-identified women on July 4, 2003 in a bar which at the time the media frequently called a lesbian bar. Many lesbian women who heard the news started coming to the bar to hang out and make new friends."
"Earlier, in April 2003 we had been approached by a group of men who claimed to have a lesbian organization by the name Makerere University Students Lesbians Association. When we asked them where the lesbians were and why it was led by men, they said that the women were “shy.” Later we did some research and learnt that these men were not university students nor did any such organization exist."
An accountant by profession, she has excelled in human rights advocacy and obtained a certificate in human rights law. For the past four years she has been speaking at international fora highlighting the plight of lesbian women in her country. But perhaps more importantly, Kasha has had the courage to appear on national television in Uganda, becoming one of the first lesbians to openly speak out.

She has consistently invoked international covenants that Uganda has ratified and the Government has failed to implement.

In 2007 she was brutally harassed at the World Social Forum in Nairobi after she spoke in front of 60,000 people about the respect and tolerance of homosexuals in the world. Later for appearing in the media she was again heckled, threatened and attacked. Since then she has been shifting from house to house, afraid to stay long in the same place. Police and security forces regularly stop and intimidate her.

In 2009 she and two other activists held a press conference with the message 'we do not recruit!' The organisation the Family Life Network (FLN), which receives substantial American evangelical backing, had been claiming that LGBT groups were receiving vast sums to pay Ugandans to become gay.

On 26 January 2011 one of her colleagues, gay activist David Kato, was murdered following the publication of a “gay list” by the tabloid Rolling Stone calling for their hanging; in this black list Kasha Jacqueline’s name also appears.

She challenged the homophobia frenzy in the media in the high court of Uganda where she and two others successfully sued Rolling Stone.

Speaking about receiving the award to she said:

"Harassment occurs almost on a daily basis, verbal attacks in public or more sinister repression. The simple suspicion of being a homosexual has serious consequences: being evicted from your home or losing your job is quite common; many homosexuals commit suicide."
"Lesbians, in particular, are victims of sexual abuse and are often raped by men who think they are “curing” them from so-called deviant behaviour or want to exert their masculine domination over a woman who they believe may be too virile."
"Hate speech can also be heard both in church and among politicians. Even in schools many teachers encourage the intimidation of children suspected of being gay by threatening them with expulsion."
To fight the hostility, particularly that engendered by the 'kill gays' Anti-Homosexuality bill FARUG and other groups recently launched a national “Hate no more” campaign. The aim is to inform people and combat the social exclusion that homosexuals suffer.

She says of the prize:

"It’s a great motivation. This prize means that the rights of homosexuals are an integral part of basic human rights. It’s a strong message to all Ugandans and other Africans who believe that gays are second-class citizens."
"When I’m back home people will say it’s a disgrace for my country. But I take it as a sign of encouragement for all those fighting against the abuse of minorities; respect for human dignity must be everyone’s concern."
The award has thus far been noted (to my knowledge) only in one Ugandan newspaper.

Text of Kasha's speech
Honorable members, distinguished guests, colleagues humbled, I stand before you, and until a few months ago, I never knew that the road we started walking with a few friends, and concerned parties, would one day lead to this kind of acknowledgement. It is a stride made by activists from Uganda, from Africa, and all over the world. It’s a celebration of our humanity.  Human rights, in many parts of the world are challenged in many ways, by authorities, institutions, and establishments that seek to suppress our right to express ourselves and to articulate our opinions.

The fear of those different from us has over time left sections of people marginalized. In the case of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgenders and Intersex people, we have been attacked verbally and physically. The world has advanced in many respects and democracy has spread to peoples far off. However, many are still fighting for, and waiting for the day of freedom to come. As witnessed in many parts of the Arab world, the masses are pressing for their freedoms, breaking the chains that have enslaved them for decades. This is an unstoppable phenomenon, as no human being desires to live oppressed and suppressed.

Patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and deep seated prejudice fed by religious fundamentalism and state collusion with conservative religious and traditional standpoints have broken families, societies and infringed on people’s liberties, expression and right to be. Fundamentalist religious leaders preach hate, as opposed to love, death instead of life. One wonders what religion has come to, and what vision leaders have for their societies. It’s a known fact that development moves hand in hand with the respect for human rights. And for my country and the world to excel further, the respect for human rights has to include LGBT rights. LGBT people are part of the people that shape our society, contribute to the national economy, raise families, among other things. They therefore expect to be appreciated, respected and understood. Homosexuality is not a disease like its known by those who are ignorant, and in this 21st century, we shall certainly not see it as a taboo anymore in Africa, and in other parts of the world that still see it as a taboo. The time for defining people’s lives, speech and partners is behind us, and it’s time we embraced diversity, because a diverse society, is a progressive society.

The LGBT movement back home is no exception to the institutionalized prejudice and homophobia, a  group of courageous friends and I set out to advocate for the better treatment of LGBT people in Uganda. We felt that Uganda being a land gifted by nature, and a growing democracy where people should be allowed in different ways to express themselves, LGBT people should not be left behind in the growth of the Ugandan society. It was thus our duty to fight against the injustices and prejudices subjected to this minority group. It was not an easy road to walk, and it is still not. With passion and great sacrifices, some of us sleeping on the streets because we have been disowned by families, subject to harassment in public, walking long distances to access internet cafes, the movement was born. Over the years, there have been many challenges but also achievements. We have managed to make our voice heard and created visibility for ourselves in different ways. The movement has grown from a small headcount, to a large, confident, and empowered group with partners and a network of local and international bodies. People have become more proud of their sexuality, have reached out to others, and today, there is a great spirit of solidarity in the LGBT community.

The sacrifices made by so many are not unnoticed. We pay tribute always and especially today is paid to all the dear lives that have been lost over the years, we pray for strength to those who have been disowned, expelled from schools, sacked from jobs, raped and killed... I am aware that even as I speak before you,  churches and other misguided organizations are still setting new ways  of further extending injustices against LGBT people. Despite the above, the movement has come a long way, to realize that such setbacks are an indication of success, and a strong resilience to fight for our cause. We shall not be distracted or demoralized. Courage is our virtue, and freedom is our goal

The Human Rights movement around the world will not stop advocating for the better treatment of every human being. More and more this movement recognizes that LGBT people are part of the people we are advocating for. Society must now realize that there is a group of passionate, determined, motivated and energized individuals who have made great sacrifices to ensure the equality of everyone and are still struggling for inclusion in national policies services, programs and acknowledgement by the authorities in Uganda. It is the tireless efforts of these individuals that have made sure the barbaric Anti Homosexuality Bill of Uganda does not pass. This is in spite of the reality that the Bill is again being promoted and is in many ways still presenting a dangerous threat to respect for human rights in Uganda. Despite this and more, the struggle continues.

I receive this award, on behalf of the LGBT movement, back in Uganda, which is tirelessly moving towards freedom. In Africa as a whole, where respect for basic human rights is still a major problem. I receive this award on behalf of all social justice and civil rights movements world over, those who seek to better the lives of those marginalized. This award is affirmation that the world is transforming and will continue to transform from despotic and intolerant eras, to times where human rights including LGBT rights are respected and protected, and diversity is appreciated. It is a beacon of hope for a better society with improved values and dignity. I dream that equality and freedom will one day prevail to those still oppressed, and that a brighter future lies ahead of us. I hope that politicians cease to call for death unto others, and instead strive to provide protection and understanding.

Many people have made this award possible. My family, who have given me invaluable support, even at times when it seemed impossible, fellow activists back home, development partners, local and international, and the organizers of the Martin Ennals Award, who felt strongly and decided to recognize the deep and sustained oppression of  LGBT people in Uganda.

And as I go back home, I hope that my society can one day show people like me unconditional respect. One difference between lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender HRDs [human rights defenders] and other HRDs is that we often lose absolutely all networks of support, all family, anyone who would have protected us, who even gave birth to us. The people who would shield our lives as we protect others lives, do not, because we are treated as a scapegoat by people in the community and family who would normally have protected us.  Many times, you are all we have to shield us when people want to take our lives. This award is one more way in which you have welcomed us into your family.  On behalf of David Kato, and all the other lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender HRDs who have been killed for their bold work, I want to thank you for recognizing that the struggle for human rights is one struggle and that no human rights defender should be left to do this work alone, in fear.  Instead, we should have organizations and individuals like you, standing beside us, behind us, and around us, never alone.
Thank you.

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