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Centre of Governance & Human Rights (CGHR)


24th February 2010

A matter of life and death: The struggle for Ugandan gay rights

David Kato is a Ugandan Human Rights activist. He is also a key member of the largest sexual rights based organisation in the country Sexual Minorities Uganda where he is heavily involved in issues of advocacy and litigation in support of the LGBTI community. Kato was in conversation with Dr Andy Tucker (Deputy Director, University of Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies) on the current life threatening situation faced by sexual minority groups in Uganda and the continued struggle for sexuality-based rights.

This event was co-hosted by the Centre for Gender Studies and the Centre of Governance and Human Rights.


Death of David Kato, 26 January 2011

It is shocking to learn of the murder of the Ugandan gay rights activist, David Kato, who was bludgeoned to death in his home near Kampala, in what the police authorities there would like to file away as a 'robbery motivated' killing. David led an impassioned and inspiring discussion with Dr Andy Tucker from the Centre for Gender Studies at this event last year.

I listened to the podcast of this discussion this evening, and was reminded again of David's courageousness, incisiveness, humanity, and great wit. But above all, this excerpt, transcribed below, left the most powerful mark, one that will not easily fade away:

"We just need some resources to cause awareness. We have already done it in the past year. It is because of awareness that this Bill has come up and the dialogue is coming up. Although on the other hand I wouldn't mind anyone dying. I have always told the people, these people when they come doing research: 'When religion came to Uganda, before people died it never took roots'... When you plant a seed, before it dies it won't produce. So some of us I know we are going to die. I know. But at least that will begin…"

David was outspoken without fear, because that which one might fear was for him a source of power and of change. Late last year he had the courage to take the infamous Rolling Stone newspaper to court for their 'Hang Them' story which named homosexuals and published photographs of them. He, and two fellow activists, won their case, securing a permanent injunction and paltry damages. A successful battle, but not the war.

Just two days ago, after someone tampered with his email and requested money from colleagues and friends, David sent an email around: "Dear Comrades and partners, Sorry for the inconvenience! Some one tampered with my email and this is to let you know that am safe." He had long hadn't been, for daring to fight. A day later he was dead.

As researchers, we are compelled to reflect upon our role in listening to, publicising, engaging with and researching activists like David. This is certainly an ethical minefield with potentially very real consequences. Yet, I'm also quite sure that in his specific case, David would have laughed at such a dilemma. He was speaking out, everywhere and anywhere he could. What would be cowardly, would be to not carry on supporting the life and death struggle he was part of in any way we can.

Sharath Srinivasan

Director, CGHR (27 January 2011)