Skip to main content

David Kato

Volume 524: debated on Wednesday 2 March 2011

In late January, millions of people around the world were deeply saddened to receive news of the horrific murder of David Kisule, better known as David Kato, the prominent human rights activist best known for his brave campaigning on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. David had been beaten to death in his home near Kampala. The shock at the killing was felt in this House particularly by colleagues such as my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (David Cairns), who is not able to be here today. He had met David Kato in his celebrated campaigning role for Sexual Minorities Uganda just before his death.

Since then, the Ugandan police have made a number of arrests and one individual has been charged with the murder; in fact, the trial begins tomorrow. However, the trial must not signal an end to David Kato’s case and all that it stands for, as some in Ugandan public life would, frankly, like. That is because the wider cultural and political backdrop in present-day Uganda is characterised by open and often vile homophobia. Uganda is hardly the only place where that is the case, but it is a country which, for the best part of a couple of decades, has had a broadly positive trajectory on democracy and human rights. It has not been perfect, and in some years people might have said that President Museveni had taken his foot off the pedal somewhat, but it is unquestionably the case that Uganda has been one of the better success stories in Africa.

When countries, particularly developing countries, skew their developmental trajectories, we should sit up and take careful notice, particularly when it is a country such as Uganda—there are others—of which, on the whole, we have had a good view. I have a personal record of involvement with politicians in Uganda. It is places such as Uganda that catch our eye. And so it is with human rights: we know which countries routinely abuse human rights and have done so for many years, and we try to do our best through campaigning, relationships with other countries and so on to change that, but when a country does not on the whole have a reputation for treating its population badly, it worries us when the quality of governance suddenly slips back.

The essence of the problem in Uganda, which David Kato’s death has thrown into sharp relief, is that some people in Ugandan public life—politicians, journalists, business people and others—have for some time been seeking personal gain through pandering to and even encouraging homophobia. Prominent among them is David Bahati, the Ugandan MP, who tabled a private Member’s Bill calling for homosexuals to face the death penalty. His name is ironic: I understand that “Bahati” means “peace.” He wants peace for most people, but he wants to kill those who are gay. The Bill whipped up a fervour of enthusiasm among some newspapers, and the oddly named Rolling Stone—a new newspaper, not the famous American counterpart, I do not hesitate to add—eventually published pictures of known members and campaigners in the LGBT communities and urged people to kill them. Not that long afterwards, and perhaps tragically unsurprisingly, David Kato was killed.

David Bahati and Rolling Stone are both a disgrace, of course, but even more worrying at the time was the slow initial response of the Ugandan Government. Some Members and politicians stoked the fire with gusto. Bahati’s private Member’s Bill proposed, among other things, a widening of the definition of homosexual acts and a toughening up of penalties. It called for fines or imprisonment for anyone found to be promoting homosexuality, and the death penalty as punishment for serial homosexuality—the mind boggles.

Some agencies in the developed world chose to view the debate that raged around Bahati’s Bill as providing an opportunity to present Africa through an African prism. In a sense, that is a noble, sound journalistic intent, but they used completely the wrong subject—again, the mind boggles. The BBC asked on its discussion forum whether homosexuals should face execution. That lent international legitimacy to the many people in Uganda and elsewhere who think that the answer is yes. I was reading the responses on my iPhone in the Chamber as they came out, and I was struck by the fact that no one who put a comment on the board was from Uganda. In effect, the BBC had stimulated a debate about whether homosexuals in the UK should be executed. There were people who said, “It is up to Uganda what is done in Uganda but we should probably do that here.” That was the level of debate that that completely insane question stoked. It was most unfortunate, and I subsequently spoke to the head of World Service-Africa. I believe there is an understanding that that question and that particular treatment should not be repeated.

That said, the forum was an indicator of how people sometimes confuse a perfectly noble intent to understand developing world countries and say, “It is not for us to impose our values”—we all know about the tricky relationship that we sometimes have with China in respect of democratic values and so on—with what was, in this case, a universal value. I believe we can all accept that what David Bahati is doing is entirely monstrous.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Does he agree that proposed measures such as David Bahati’s Bill and some of the public and media debate in Uganda to which he referred provide exactly the right environment for people to be physically attacked and, in the most extreme cases, murdered?

My hon. Friend makes a strong point. I believe that everyone I have spoken to in all parts of the House would agree with that. It behoves everyone in the media to reflect on the BBC example, and to separate forcing a post-imperialistic, unacceptable perspective on a developing country from what is actually a perfectly reasonable, universally held value. In this case, the judgment was straightforward. That is something that not just journalists but everyone needs to reflect on when they think about such issues. We are not exercising some kind of imperialistic hegemony just by saying, “Don’t execute homosexuals.”

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, which deals with a subject that has not been given the time in the public eye that I would have liked. The Rolling Stone publication that he referred to has been covered extensively in the UK media, but it is not always made clear that it was produced solely to out homosexuals and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) said, to incite violence against those individuals. It has not been going for a long time—it was created in the past few months.

That is a profound point. To be honest, I did not know that. I knew that Rolling Stone was a new magazine, but I was not aware of that. When I think about it now, it is obvious. That is a potent point. It has struck me as odd that the proper Rolling Stone, the American magazine, does not sue for breach of copyright, but I am not sure whether the copyright laws would apply in Uganda. My hon. Friend points to part of the general persecution of gay and LGBT communities in Uganda.

It is fair to give President Museveni a bit of credit for establishing a commission to investigate the implications of the Bill. As it is a private Member’s Bill, it seems odd that it should need a commission, to be perfectly honest. The long and short of it is that the commission recommended that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill be withdrawn, although it is important to say that it is still, in fact, pending. It is also important to recognise that Uganda has just had presidential and parliamentary elections, and is now in a period of very little activity. It is possible, although I would hope not probable, that the Bill could go through in a wash-up on a truncated procedure. I suspect that President Museveni would not let that happen, but if the Minister or his diplomats in Kampala get the opportunity, perhaps they could make the point to the Ugandan Government whenever they can that the thing should be withdrawn, the sooner the better.

I shall conclude early so that someone else can speak. It is worth reflecting on the fact that the European Union has developed a set of guidelines for human rights defenders. It is very important, after David Kato’s death, that the issue is fully pressed home not just by our high commission but by representatives of the EU and any EU institutions in Kampala. I am not sure whether the European foreign service—I hesitate to use the name—could also press it home.

The UK is in a position to take a strong lead, as we have a good record on equalities issues. I hope that the Minister will feel able to raise the matter with his Ugandan counterparts when he has the opportunity, and make the strongest case to the Ugandan Government that the UK and perhaps millions of people, and certainly tens of thousands of campaigners throughout the world, will not allow the matter to go away. President Museveni has said that things are done differently there, but he also recognised that there are international standards, and he has openly referred to the UK and US Governments as Governments to which he should pay attention. I conclude on that point, and wait to hear what the Minister says.

Mr Speaker received a letter from an hon. Member who wants to speak, but her office was not advised that she needed the permission of the Member who initiated the debate and the Minister. Does the hon. Member have that permission?

Thank you, Mr Hood, for letting me speak in this debate. I also thank the Minister and the hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) for allowing me to join in. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. I had asked for the same debate, but clearly because of his seniority the Speaker chose him instead of me.

The murder of David Kato demonstrates that despite some reforms under the newly re-elected President Museveni, aspects of his rule are a major concern, and speak as loudly against him as any successes have spoken for him. We know that David Kato was murdered with an iron bar or a hammer. That was first heard of under Idi Amin’s brutal dictatorship, which we certainly do not want to return to. Such methods of murder are vicious, and I hope that people in this country appreciate what an awful death it will have been for David Kato. He was not the only person to suffer that fate, but he was such a champion for gay rights and the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender community that it is important to recognise what a serious event his murder was on the world stage. It was not just something that happened in Uganda; it has affected people throughout the world.

The spin and the lies about a burglar perhaps being the murderer—it was claimed that items were stolen—have started to fall away, and we now know that it is much more likely that he was murdered because he was homosexual. He had received threats from the paper that was mentioned. It is telling that society in Uganda was ready to believe that the murder occurred just because of a burglary, and not because David Kato had campaigned not just for himself, but for wider society in Uganda.

Since the murder, I have had the good fortune to meet representatives from the wider civil society in Uganda, who have all told me that they now fear for their safety, and that there is a climate of fear in Uganda. Because of safety concerns, it would be irresponsible to divulge who they are. Whatever their sexual orientation and views, no one should suffer such a fate or live in such fear. That would be like the 1950s in this country, and we should not encourage that.

Many people in civil society have received threats by letter, e-mail and text, notes have been left at their homes, and their friends and colleagues have been raped or beaten up. The way in which those messages have been sent is of grave concern and makes me think that the authorities may attempt to look the other way if another activist is murdered. That is a great concern, and we in this country can do something about it. One activist told me that the Ugandan Government regularly hacks into their phone and knows who they are talking to. It is only the worldwide network of support that protects them from being severely beaten or, even worse, killed.

Intimidation of civil society has always existed, and one has only to look at the 2009 draft Bill on public order management—if it goes through, it will restrict small meetings of more than three people from taking place—to see that the Government of Uganda view a more liberal civil society as a direct threat. Although Uganda has made many strides forward in the fight against poverty, there is still an important role for civil society in Uganda to ensure that the country continues to grow and to get its people out of absolute poverty and into a much more prosperous way of life. However, with unfavourable legislation and the increasing security threats highlighted by the murder of David Kato, civil society in Uganda is retreating. Its presence in Uganda not only feeds the hungry and heals the sick, but provides a voice for those marginalised by the Ugandan Government.

I hope that today's debate demonstrates to civil society in Uganda that we support its campaign for a fair society, and I also hope that it will take its place in the wider argument against the Bill on anti-homosexuality, which was tabled last year against the background of increasing hostility towards civil society. I hope that President Museveni, who was recently re-elected, will steer his next Parliament towards international obligations and will, in the light of the global uproar against David Kato's death, build a fair and just Ugandan society. I also hope that our Government will put pressure on Uganda and encourage other countries to do so to support international human rights standards and to uphold the Ugandan constitution.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) on securing this important debate, and I thank the hon. Members for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), and for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash), and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) for their contributions.

The hon. Member for Falkirk raises an important issue, on which the Government have been closely engaged for some time. Indeed, I welcome this timely opportunity to discuss an important and difficult issue in Uganda, across Africa, and elsewhere in the world. Today, I want to talk in as much detail as I can about the deeply worrying death of David Kato. I would also like to take the opportunity to discuss issues relating to the human rights of sexual minorities more broadly in Uganda today. In doing so, I intend to set out the Government’s position on the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender issue in Uganda, and to discuss our work in that area.

First, let me address the tragic death of David Kato on 26 January this year. He was well known to several hon. Members, and his killing saw the loss of one of Uganda’s foremost human rights activists. He was widely respected by both domestic and international colleagues, and his valiant efforts, especially his work as an LGBT activist and a Christian activist, was important in defending the human rights of all Ugandans. His death, unfortunately, represents a backward step for human rights in Uganda, and I am sure that his loss will be felt by many in Uganda and around the world.

It is vital, as the hon. Member for Falkirk suggests, that the Ugandan police force thoroughly investigates Mr Kato’s death. In my statement at the time, I urged the authorities to do that, and to bring the perpetrators to justice. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire said, it was a particularly vile, vicious and unpleasant killing. Our high commission in Kampala has reinforced the importance of this in subsequent representations to the inspector general of police in Uganda.

I am advised that the Ugandan police investigation has so far resulted in two arrests. One suspect was released without charge due to lack of evidence. The second, Enock Nsubuga, remains on remand in Mukono prison awaiting a recommendation from the magistrates court for the case to be heard in the High Court, which is a legal requirement when an offence is potentially punishable by death. I understand that in a statement to the police on 2 February, Mr Nsubuga, a convicted criminal who was apparently employed by Mr Kato, confessed to robbing and killing his benefactor. Our high commission will continue to monitor the case closely, and plans to be present in court during the next hearing. In the meantime, the coalition Government will continue to support the rights of LGBT people in Uganda, as we do elsewhere.

I want to say a few words about our policy more generally in Uganda. We are committed to combating violence and discrimination against LGBT people as an integral part of our international human rights work. We realise that sexual orientation is a sensitive issue in many communities, but we firmly believe that any illegality of consenting same-sex relations is incompatible with international human rights law, including the international covenant on civil and political rights. Laws should guarantee the same rights to everyone regardless of sexuality, and if LGBT people choose to exercise those rights, they should be free do to so.

The Foreign Office has a clear programme for promoting the human rights of LGBT people that focuses on the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the fight against discrimination. It includes taking action on individual cases where discrimination has occurred, lobbying for changes in discriminatory practices and laws, and helping individuals on a case-by-case basis. Although the debate focuses on Uganda, similar prejudices against LGBT people unfortunately exist in many parts of Africa, and in many other places around the world.

Although we fully recognise and respect cultural and religious sensitivities, we intend to be active about LGBT rights in Uganda in various ways. On a number of occasions, we have made clear to the Government of Uganda that the UK position on respect for the rights of LGBT people is not something from which we will deviate. We are opposed to any actions that have a negative impact on the human rights of Ugandans. The high commission in Kampala has regularly raised the issue with the Ugandan Government, including with the Prime Minister and other Ministers. I was in Uganda in July and I had a meeting with President Museveni. Among other things, I raised the issue of human rights and the proposed legislation and Bill, which I will speak about in a moment. I made our concerns plain and clear.

I welcome the strength of what the Minister has said in restating the Government’s policy, and I offer the full support of the Labour party for that. Does he see value in taking the policy further and working alongside our European Union colleagues? If he does, has he had the opportunity to discuss with his European counterparts the ways in which the European Union can put pressure on Uganda to guarantee human rights for LGBT communities?

It is essential that we work with our European counterparts, and if the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will say something about that in a moment.

The Government will continue to take this matter very seriously, and we often take the lead on this issue, co-ordinating action across other diplomatic and donor partners. On the point about the EU, a formal démarche initiated by the UK was delivered by EU member states to the Ugandan Foreign Minister, and there have been regular meetings with LGBT activists. We have also been involved in the drafting and subsequent implementation of local EU guidelines for human rights defenders in Uganda. I hope that that will convince the hon. Gentleman—if he needed convincing—that we are very much on the case and working with our EU partners.

The UK has chosen to support the work of the Sexual Minorities Uganda group, which has acted as a focal point for a number of LGBT groups and activists in their work to protect those who have fallen victim of the law because of their sexuality. For example, we have enabled individuals to seek an injunction to prevent the publication of articles that incite hatred against the LGBT community. The high commission in Kampala remains in close touch with other Ugandan civil society groups that campaign for the rights of all minorities. I hope that that chimes with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire about how important it is to work closely with civil society groups throughout Uganda, and help them in their campaigns.

A number of hon. Members mentioned the hugely inflammatory articles that appeared in Uganda’s Rolling Stone magazine late last year, targeting David Kato and many others alleged to belong to the LGBT community. The articles, which included photographs of the people whom the magazine was attacking, were deeply disturbing and incited hatred and violence against homosexuals. Of course we commend Uganda for its largely free press—I know that the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby shares that view—and the positive role that that often plays in generating debate. However, I absolutely and unequivocally condemn the type of journalism in that magazine.

We raised our concerns over the articles with Prime Minister Nsibambi and the Minister responsible for internal affairs, and we made clear the damage that we believe such things can do. I am glad that some senior figures in Uganda have highlighted the dangers that can result from insensitivity towards the gay community. Those people include the inspector general of police, Major-General Kale Kayihura, who cautioned the public and anti-homosexuality pastors against such insensitivity in an article in the Daily Monitor newspaper on 4 February this year.

Another related issue that has caused concern and was mentioned by the hon. Member for Falkirk and by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire is the anti-homosexuality Bill tabled in the Ugandan Parliament by David Bahati in 2009. This is a private Member’s Bill and has not—fortunately—been endorsed by the Government of Uganda. Nevertheless, we have made our concerns clear to that Government on a number of occasions, because the Bill seeks further to criminalise homosexuality. As my hon. Friend pointed out, the legislation has the potential to inflame and incite serious hatred and violence. As the hon. Member for Falkirk said, the Bill includes a provision to introduce the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”, and a term of life imprisonment for anyone convicted of “the offence of homosexuality.” That is staggering and beggars belief. The Bill has not been adopted and remains at the Committee stage in Uganda’s Parliament. It will, however, be carried over into the new Parliament. We are doing all we can and are monitoring the situation. We will keep up the pressure on the Ugandan Government at every available opportunity.

The UK will continue to play a leading role in Uganda and worldwide in helping to end inequality and discrimination against LGBT people—indeed, against all minorities. In July 2010, the coalition Government published “Working for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equality”, a programme of work to ensure that the UK continues to push for LGBT equality both at home and abroad. That includes robustly examining the human rights records of other countries through the UN-led universal periodic review, and seeking opportunities to raise the issue within the Commonwealth.

A meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government will take place later this year in Perth, Australia, and we will be active in preparing the agenda for that. Given some of the unfortunate trends on increased persecution of gay minorities that are regrettably taking place in a number of Commonwealth countries, we will ensure that the issue is on the agenda for discussion at CHOGM later this year.

Once again, I thank the hon. Member for Falkirk for securing this important debate. The death of David Kato was a terrible tragedy and a horrendous, gratuitous murder. We hope that his legacy will live on, and I am sure it will. It is equally important that the perpetrators of that ghastly crime are brought to justice, and we will make sure that we play our role and that the small assistance the UK can provide is made available.

We have good bilateral relations with the Ugandan Government. I visited Uganda in July, and the Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr O’Brien) also visited last year. Uganda is a country with which we have an intensified bilateral relationship and many equities at stake. We have important trade agreements with Uganda and it is an important partner in the UN. It has been a temporary member of the UN Security Council, and we have worked with the country on issues affecting Africa.

However, as a candid friend, we will not resile in any way from telling Uganda about our concerns regarding its human rights record. Uganda moves forward as a country that is playing an increasing role in the east African community. It has just had an election. That had its flaws, but in the main, it was free and fair. Nevertheless, the country does itself no favours when it persecutes minorities of all kinds, and we will continue to stand up for those minorities. Once again I congratulate the hon. Member for Falkirk on securing this important debate. I hope that I have answered his point, and if there are any outstanding matters I will be happy to write to him in due course.