Africa, G20, Headlines, Human Rights, LGBTQ

UGANDA: Kato Murder Re-ignites Gay Rights Debate

KAMPALA, Feb 12 2011 - For the government of Uganda, the timing of David Kato’s death couldn’t have been more unfortunate. Kato was killed on Jan. 26, a national holiday to commemorate the ascent to power of the ruling National Resistance Movement party.

Kato was the face of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), an advocacy group actively campaigning against the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

The international press, foreign governments and gay rights activists have cast Kato’s death as the result of the prevailing climate of homophobia in Uganda; a charge the government refutes.

Kale Kayihura, the Inspector General of Police, insists that Kato’s murder had nothing to do with his activism, saying that he was just a victim of a private disagreement.

“The circumstances surrounding this incident have no indication regarding Kato’s campaign against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill before Parliament,” Kayihura said in the days after the murder became public.

Police initially declared Kato’s death as the latest in a spate of crimes committed by thugs in the Mukono area near Kampala, which has seen more than a dozen people battered to death using iron bars in the last two months.

“The killing was an act of thuggery,” Information and National Guidance Minister Kabakumba Masiko stated at a recent press conference. “It was not organised because of what he was. Much as homosexuality is prohibited by the Constitution, his death was a (private) mission gone bad. The government is doing whatever it takes to ensure that those who killed Kato are brought to book.”

Human rights activists, though, beg to differ. They maintain that it’s no coincidence that Kato was killed just a month after his face appeared in a local tabloid that published pictures and addresses of Uganda’s “Top 100 Homosexuals” under the screaming front-page headline, “Hang Them!”

In a press release soon after the police’s statement, the activists wrote: “The Sexual Minorities Uganda and the entire Ugandan Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex Community stand together to condemn the killing of David Kato and call for the Ugandan Government, Civil Society, and Local Communities to protect sexual minorities across Uganda. David has been receiving death threats since his face was put on the front page of Rolling Stone Magazine [a Ugandan tabloid, unrelated to the U.S.-based magazine], which called for his death and the death of all homosexuals.”

Kato’s lawyer claims that the activist had feared for his safety prior to his death, even alerting police. But the government and conservatives believe that by condemning Kato’s murder as an act of homophobia, the local gay rights movement and its foreign supporters are intent on pushing their agenda by converting a victim of random violence into a martyr.

The heated war of words between conservatives and human rights activists has cooled slightly since police arrested Enock Nsubuga, who confessed to committing the murder, but is by no means over.

Nsubuga, an ex-convict, confessed to killing Kato in an extra-judicial statement he recorded at Mukono magistrate’s court.

The 22-year-old Nsubuga claims that he killed Kato for enticing him into homosexual practices with material and financial promises that never materialised.

“The suspect was working in Kato’s garden at the time of the activist’s death,” says police chief Kayihura. “According to the suspect, Kato, 46, promised to pay him money for having sex with him. But Kato never fulfilled his promise.

“The suspect then took a hammer from the bathroom and fatally beat Kato. The attack was not a hate crime, as has been widely reported, but rather stemmed primarily from the suspect’s desire to get money from Kato.”

Kayihura nevertheless cautioned the public and anti-homosexuality pastors to show sensitivity towards the gay community in the country. “You should stop engaging in extremist campaigns that can be interpreted differently.”

If the police had hoped that Nsubuga’s confession would put the matter to rest, they must have been monumentally disappointed.

Gay rights activists have questioned the veracity of Nsubuga’s confession, stating that, the latter’s claims are designed to portray gay people in unflattering light.

“Nsubuga’s reasons for murdering Kato depict Kato as a deceitful human being. He’s also portrayed as someone who used promises to make Nsubuga do things the latter didn’t want to do,” a SMUG official said.

“This is consistent with messages from homophobes who have accused the gay rights movement of using gifts and money to entrap and entice young students into homosexuality. This is wrong. It’s also a calculated attempt to smear Kato’s name even in death and to further depict the gay rights movement in Uganda in negative light.”

Some activists have expressed fear that Nsubuga might be a fall guy, as the government tries to deflect international scrutiny on Uganda over protection of gays.

Val Kalende, from gay rights group Freedom and Roam Uganda, insists that the government can’t wash its hands clean of responsibility.

“David’s death is a result of the hatred planted in Uganda by U.S. evangelicals in 2009. The Ugandan Government and the so-called U.S evangelicals must take responsibility for David’s blood.”

Uganda retains anti-sodomy laws that punish homosexual acts by up to 14 years to life in prison and is considering passing an Anti-Homosexuality Bill that would impose the death penalty on homosexual behaviour.

* This article first appeared on the Street News Service

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