Kasha Jacqueline gave a moving speech on Sunday 14 August at Amnesty International’s International Council Meeting (ICM) in the Netherlands. The following Wednesday she was denied a visa to speak in the United Kingdom. Kasha Jacqueline was awarded the 2011 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. The Chairman of the Jury of the MEA, Hans Thoolen, described the laureate as “an exceptional woman of a rare courage, fighting under death threat for human dignity and the rights of homosexuals and marginalised people in Africa.”
Good morning everyone, ladies and gentlemen. I am very, very honoured to be here today and I would like to congratulate Amnesty International for the great work in the last five decades of human rights.
I am a very passionate human being, a daughter, a sister and a lover. Amongst all of that I am a human being who is willing to go, join other people in the struggle to work for human rights. And this time today I want to share with you my experience as a gay rights activist.
In Africa over 38 countries criminalise homosexuality. These are ordinary citizens who contribute to the development of their countries, but they are being criminalised simply for who they love and because of who they are attracted to. In Uganda where I come from, homosexuality is illegal and carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment. However, in 2009 a bill was proposed in the Parliament of Uganda saying that life imprisonment is a very weak law to criminalise homosexuality and now they are proposing the death penalty.
I’ve lived my life fighting for gay rights openly in Uganda and I’ve had to pay a price for that. I’ve been evicted from house to house. My office has been evicted. I can no longer move on the streets openly. I’ve been attacked. And these are just a few of the things that happened to me and my community.
Early this year, I lost a dear friend and comrade, David Kato. He stood out of the darkness to fight for the freedom and liberty of my community. The price he paid was to be murdered in cold blood during the day in his house. Just as we are still trying to deal with the tragedy, four months later a member of my community committed suicide because his family disowned him, his work sacked him, he had nowhere to go.
As if that was not enough, in broad day light a house of one of my members was set ablaze with letters left behind. That is just the beginning, they are coming for all of us.
Where does all of this homophobia come from. It comes from the press. It comes from the State. It comes from the culture and the religious institutions.
We are not scared. These are our lives we are fighting for. It is not easy and we are very aware of it. But we cannot afford to sit back there, because if we sit back there we shall have lost the battle for human rights. We are very aware that some of us may never live to see the freedoms and liberties we are fighting for today. But we are just honoured that we are part of this ground breaking struggle to make a better place for the future generations. Not only in Uganda and not only in Africa, but also in the world.
Homosexuals are human beings. We are coming out here to share our experiences with all of you here because we are getting support from around the world. We are going to the UN and sharing our experiences. We are going to the African Commission and sharing our experiences. Of course we are not very welcome. The African Commission thinks homosexuals are not human beings and so gay rights are not human rights. They even denied our application for observer status. And their excuse was, these are not human beings you are fighting for. Again as I say as I kept saying, we are not going to sit back and feel sorry for ourselves. We are petitioning their decision.
Before we started my organisation, we approached Amnesty International Africa, the regional office, and they welcomed us. They gave us two computers in the resource centre, in the office. They gave us a printer and said you are welcome here any day. Come and do your work here. Do not move on the streets, it is not safe for you. Until today, Amnesty has been attacked in Uganda for supporting us. But they have not given up.
However, there are still challenges. Many challenges. What is Amnesty going to practically do for a lesbian like me in Uganda apart from writing statements, apart from coming up with petitions? This is something I want to leave behind for you this week to think about and maybe you will share it with us.
As I conclude, I just really want to leave one message behind for Amnesty. Many people out there who are counting on you. Many people out there wondering where Amnesty is, apart from just here in Amnesty and receiving tee shirts and receiving beautiful bags. Not everyone out there has access to Internet. Many people in my community cannot even afford a meal a day. They cannot afford to go to an Internet Café and sign your statements and support your work. How can you help communities like that to join this struggle. Many people out there who would want to be part of you, but they cannot find you. We want to know how you can help us. Thank you again.