UGANDA: Murder of gay activist "needs urgent investigation"
Discrimination against gay people prevents them from accessing HIV prevention, treatment and care
NAIROBI, 27 January 2011 (IRIN) - Gay Ugandans say they are living in fear after the murder of David Kato, a prominent gay activist who opposed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill submitted to parliament in 2009.
Police say no suspects have been arrested and the motive for Kato's murder remains unclear; he was hit on the head with a stone at his home in the central Ugandan district of Mukono on the afternoon of 26 January.
The possibility that Kato may have been killed because of his sexuality has made gay people feel very insecure.
"Gay people are all very afraid, especially those who are known to the public; we need the police to urgently investigate this crime and find David's killers," said Pepe Julian Onziema, spokesman for the rights group, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG
), who paid tribute to Kato for his dedication to the defence of the rights of sexual minorities in the country.
Kato, an advocacy officer for SMUG, recently won a court case against a local tabloid, The Rolling Stone, which in October 2010 published his photograph and name in an article claiming to identify Ugandan homosexuals. In November, a court ordered The Rolling Stone to cease publishing. Earlier this month, a judge ruled that it had violated their constitutional rights to privacy and ordered compensation.
"He had told me that he was not feeling safe; he was being harassed in bars and when we went to court people would be waiting for him outside, taunting him," Onziema said.
|He had told me he was feeling unsafe... when he went to court people would be waiting for him outside, taunting him
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the Uganda Police Force to urgently investigate Kato's death.
"The government should ensure that members of Uganda's LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community have adequate protection from violence and take prompt action against all threats or hate speech likely to incite violence, discrimination, or hostility toward them," the group said in a statement
"We are still conducting initial investigations into Mr Kato's death," Police spokeswoman Judith Nabakooba told IRIN/PlusNews. "A crime is a crime - we do not discriminate and will investigate fully."
"What we would like is for gay people who are being harassed to come forward and report these incidents - otherwise the police are not in a position to protect them," she added.
However, homosexuality is a criminal offence in Uganda, and reporting harassment to the police is a risk few are willing to take. Only a handful of gay Ugandans are "out of the closet", with most preferring to live anonymously in a society where homosexuality is taboo.
Kato also actively campaigned against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (2009)
, introduced by ruling party MP David Bahati. According to HRW, Kato described the bill as "profoundly undemocratic and un-African". If passed, the bill would impose the death sentence for the crime of "aggravated homosexuality" - when an HIV-positive person has sex with anyone of the same gender who is disabled or under the age of 18.
The bill would also force people accused of aggravated homosexuality to undergo HIV tests, and impose prison sentences or heavy fines on members of the public who failed to report homosexual activity.
HIV/AIDS activists have condemned
the bill, noting that it would only serve to drive gay Ugandans further underground, away from HIV prevention, treatment and care. The Ugandan government classes men who have sex with men (MSM) as a "most at risk" population, but has no HIV programmes targeting them, despite a 2009 study
by UNAIDS and the Ugandan government recommending that "legal impediments to the inclusion of most-at-risk populations... be reviewed".
Studies also show that there is a link between homophobia and sexual behaviour: a 2009 US study
found that young gay adults who experienced family rejection on the basis of their sexuality were 3.4 times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse, compared to those from families with no or low levels of family rejection.