Prominent Human Rights Activist Murdered in Uganda

Jodi Jacobson

Human rights advocates and the US State Department are calling for a thorough investigation of the murder of a Ugandan human rights advocate murdered after he had been publicly targeted by an anti-gay publication.

Just after this story was published, we learned of the case of a lesbian woman from Uganda, set to be deported back to her country from the UK. She has been threatened by Ugandan lawmaker David Bahati to “repent” or else.  The UK has declined her request for asylum based on fears for her life.

Human rights advocates and the United States Department of State are calling for an investigation of the murder of a prominent Ugandan human rights advocate. David Kato, the advocacy officer for Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), fought for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons. He was brutally murdered in his home yesterday by an unknown assailant. 

Kato’s murder came on the heels of calls late last year by a Ugandan magazine for the deaths of LGBT persons, specifically naming Kato among others, and posting their pictures.  LGBT persons in Uganda face a deteriorating climate of such hate speech and  anti-LGBT violence amid ongoing debate around legislation first proposed two years ago by Ugandan lawmakers seeking to criminalize homosexuality.

Homosexual sex is already illegal in Uganda. The proposed legislation, originally introduced in October 2009 and known as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, criminalizes advocacy for the rights of LGBT persons as well as other actions.  According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), it would criminalize all homosexuality, making it punishable by a fine and life imprisonment. “Repeat offenders” and those who are HIV-positive would be subject to the death penalty. The bill would also oblige anyone with knowledge of someone who is or might be a homosexual to report that person to the police within 24 hours.

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As Ramona Vijeyarasa reported for Rewire in November 2009, the bill has sweeping implications:

The bill proposes a seven-year jail term for anyone who “attempts to commit the offence” or who “aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage in acts of homosexuality.”  Under the proposed law, “promotion of homosexuality,” including publishing information or providing funds, premises for activities, or other resources, is also punishable by a seven-year sentence or a fine of US$50,000. The bill seeks to apply the death penalty handed down for the crime of “aggravated homosexuality,” defined as a sexual assault committed against a member of the same sex who is under 18 or disabled. An HIV test would be forced upon anyone found guilt of the offense of “homosexuality.”

In a statement after introduction of the bill in the Ugandan parliament, Kate Sheill, Amnesty International’s expert on sexual rights, stated:

“Certain provisions in this bill are illegal; they are also immoral.  They criminalize a sector of society for being who they are, when what the government should be doing instead is protecting them from discrimination and abuse.”

The bill has been widely condemned both within Uganda and internationally.

After it was first introduced, Vijeyarasa wrote:

The bill has been condemned by a number of African organisations which promote equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people, including Sexual Minorities Uganda, Inclusive and Affirming Ministries (IAM) and The Rainbow Project of Namibia, all of which may become illegal for “promoting homosexuality” if the Bill is passed. When the bill was condemned by the US Embassy in Kampala in late October, the Ugandan Ethics Minister James Nsaba Buturo’s response was to dismiss the very notion of human rights: “We are really getting tired of this phrase ‘human rights’. It is being abused. Anything goes, and if you are challenged? ‘Oh, it’s my right’”.

President Barack Obama called the bill “odious,” and Kato himself had called the bill “profoundly undemocratic and un-African.”  Though the bill was later shelved in response to intense international pressure, Sky News Africa reports that “gay rights campaigners fear it may be re-introduced if President Yoweri Museveni is re-elected for a fourth term next month.”

Political and religious leaders in Uganda have for several years been openly encouraging fear and hatred of LGBT persons by constantly speaking of the “dangers” of homosexuality and equating homosexual persons as being against Christianity among other things.  The introduction of the Anti-Gay bill in Uganda in 2009 and the open spewing of hate speech by Ugandan lawmakers is believed by some to have sparked a rise in hate crimes against LGBT persons in other countries in Africa in early 2010.

The fight against the bill has also pushed Ugandan activists to the fore, according to HRW, raising concern for their privacy and safety. These deepened in late 2010 when, HRW states:

“[A] local tabloid called Rolling Stone, unconnected to the US magazine, published pictures, names, and residence locations of some members of the LGBT community, along with a headline saying, “Hang Them.” Kato’s photo appeared on the cover, and inside another photo appeared with his name.”

HRW notes that three activists, including Kato, eventually sued the publication and won on January 3, 2011. The judge ruled that the publication had violated their constitutional rights to privacy and ordered compensation. He also issued an injunction prohibiting any further publication of the identities and home locations of individuals labeled homosexuals.

Kato, who, according to a report by the Associated Press had received multiple threats, was found with serious wounds to his head caused by an attack with a hammer at his home late Wednesday in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. He died on the way to the hospital.

Ugandan police claim the killing was due to a robbery.

But Ugandan groups want a full investigation. In a statement, Sexual Minorities Uganda and the Ugandan Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex Community called on the police and the Government of Uganda “to seriously investigate the circumstances surrounding David’s death.”

We also call on religious leaders, political leaders and media houses to stop demonizing sexual minorities in Uganda since doing so creates a climate of violence against gay persons.

Others have pointed to the influence in Uganda of fundamentalist U.S. Evangelical groups that have been working there and have at various times helped pay for anti-gay workshops, pushed for efforts to “convert” gay persons, and, in some cases, supported the Anti-Gay bill.  Val Kalende, the Chair of the Board at Freedom and Roam Uganda stated that “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!”

They note that Kato had been receiving death threats “since his face was put on the front page of Rolling Stone Magazine, which called for his death and the death of all homosexuals. David’s death comes directly after the Supreme Court of Uganda ruled that people must stop inciting violence against homosexuals and must respect the right to privacy and human dignity.”

U.S. groups also reacted swiftly. “David Kato’s death is a tragic loss to the human rights community,” said Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “David had faced the increased threats to Ugandan LGBT people bravely and will be sorely missed.”

Burnett also called on President Museveni to “categorically reject the hate that lies behind this bill, and instead encourage tolerance of divergent views of sexuality and protect vulnerable minorities.”

In a statement urging Ugandan authorities to “quickly and thoroughly investigate and prosecute those responsible for this heinous act,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said:

David Kato tirelessly devoted himself to improving the lives of others. As an advocate for the group Sexual Minorities Uganda, he worked to defend the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. His efforts resulted in groundbreaking recognition for Uganda’s LGBT community, including the Uganda Human Rights Commission’s October 2010 statement on the unconstitutionality of Uganda’s draft “anti-homosexuality bill” and the Ugandan High Court’s January 3 ruling safeguarding all Ugandans’ right to privacy and the preservation of human dignity. His tragic death underscores how critical it is that both the government and the people of Uganda, along with the international community, speak out against the discrimination, harassment, and intimidation of Uganda’s LGBT community, and work together to ensure that all individuals are accorded the same rights and dignity to which each and every person is entitled.

Human Rights Watch and other groups also called for a thorough investigation.  In its statement today, HRW called on the government to “ensure that members of Uganda’s LGBT 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.”

Ugandan advocates have vowed to press on with their struggle.

Speaking about what the death of David means in the struggle for equality, Frank Mugisha, the Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda said:

“No form of intimidation will stop our cause. The death of David will only be honoured when the struggle for justice and equality is won. David is gone and many of us will follow, but the struggle will be won. David wanted to see a Uganda where all people will be treated equally despite their sexual orientation.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Republican National Convention Edition

Ally Boguhn

The Trump family's RNC claims about crime and the presidential candidate's record on gender equality have kept fact-checkers busy.

Republicans came together in Cleveland this week to nominate Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention (RNC), generating days of cringe-inducing falsehoods and misleading statements on crime, the nominee’s positions on gender equality, and LGBTQ people.

Trump’s Acceptance Speech Blasted for Making False Claims on Crime

Trump accepted the Republican nomination in a Thursday night speech at the RNC that drew harsh criticism for many of its misleading and outright false talking points.

Numerous fact-checkers took Trump to task, calling out many of his claims for being “wrong,” and “inflated or misleading.”

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 Among the most hotly contested of Trump’s claims was the assertion that crime has exploded across the country.

“Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement,” Trump claimed, according to his prepared remarks, which were leaked ahead of his address. “Homicides last year increased by 17 percent in America’s 50 largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 percent. They are up nearly 60 percent in nearby Baltimore.”

Crime rates overall have been steadily declining for years.

“In 2015, there was an uptick in homicides in 36 of the 50 largest cities compared to the previous years. The rate did, indeed, increase nearly 17 percent, and it was the worst annual change since 1990. The homicide rate was up 54.3 percent in Washington, and 58.5 percent in Baltimore,” explained Washington Post fact checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee. “But in the first months of 2016, homicide trends were about evenly split in the major cities. Out of 63 agencies reporting to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, 32 cities saw a decrease in homicides in first quarter 2016 and 31 saw an increase.”

Ames Grawert, a counsel in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program, said in a statement posted to the organization’s website that 2016 statistics aren’t sufficient in declaring crime rate trends. 

“Overall, crime rates remain at historic lows. Fear-inducing soundbites are counterproductive, and distract from nuanced, data-driven, and solution-oriented conversations on how to build a smarter criminal justice system in America,” Grawert said. “It’s true that some cities saw an increase in murder rates last year, and that can’t be ignored, but it’s too early to say if that’s part of a national trend.” 

When Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, was confronted with the common Republican falsehoods on crime during a Thursday interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, he claimed that the FBI’s statistics were not to be trusted given that the organization recently advised against charges in connection with Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.

“According to FBI statistics, crime rates have been going down for decades,” Tapper told Manafort. “How can Republicans make the argument that it’s somehow more dangerous today when the facts don’t back that up?”

“People don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods,” said Manafort, going on to claim that “the FBI is certainly suspect these days after what they did with Hillary Clinton.”

There was at least one notable figure who wholeheartedly embraced Trump’s fearmongering: former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. “Great Trump Speech,” tweeted Duke on Thursday evening. “Couldn’t have said it better!”

Ben Carson Claims Transgender People Are Proof of “How Absurd We Have Become”

Former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson criticized the existence of transgender people while speaking at the Florida delegation breakfast on Tuesday in Cleveland.  

“You know, we look at this whole transgender thing, I’ve got to tell you: For thousands of years, mankind has known what a man is and what a woman is. And now, all of a sudden we don’t know anymore,” said Carson, a retired neurosurgeon. “Now, is that the height of absurdity? Because today you feel like a woman, even though everything about you genetically says that you’re a man or vice versa?”

“Wouldn’t that be the same as if you woke up tomorrow morning after seeing a movie about Afghanistan or reading some books and said, ‘You know what? I’m Afghanistan. Look, I know I don’t look that way. My ancestors came from Sweden, or something, I don’t know. But I really am. And if you say I’m not, you’re a racist,’” Carson said. “This is how absurd we have become.”

When confronted with his comments during an interview with Yahoo News’ Katie Couric, Carson doubled down on his claims.“There are biological markers that tell us whether we are a male or a female,” said Carson. “And just because you wake up one day and you say, ‘I think I’m the other one,’ that doesn’t change it. Just, a leopard can’t change its spots.”

“It’s not as if they woke up one day and decided, ‘I’m going to be a male or I’m going to be a female,’” Couric countered, pointing out that transgender people do not suddenly choose to change their gender identities on a whim.

Carson made several similar comments last year while on the campaign trail.

In December, Carson criticized the suggested that allowing transgender people into the military amounted to using the armed services “as a laboratory for social experimentation.”

Carson once suggested that allowing transgender people to use the restroom that aligned with their gender identity amounted to granting them “extra rights.”

Ivanka Trump Claims Her Father Supports Equal Pay, Access to Child Care

Ivanka Trump, the nominee’s daughter, made a pitch during her speech Thursday night at the RNC for why women voters should support her father.

“There have always been men of all background and ethnicities on my father’s job sites. And long before it was commonplace, you also saw women,” Ivanka Trump said. “At my father’s company, there are more female than male executives. Women are paid equally for the work that we do and when a woman becomes a mother, she is supported, not shut out.” 

“As president, my father will change the labor laws that were put into place at a time when women were not a significant portion of the workforce. And he will focus on making quality child care affordable and accessible for all,” she continued before pivoting to address the gender wage gap. 

“Policies that allow women with children to thrive should not be novelties; they should be the norm. Politicians talk about wage equality, but my father has made it a practice at his company throughout his entire career.”

However, Trump’s stated positions on the gender wage gap, pregnancy and mothers in the workplace, and child care don’t quite add up to the picture the Trumps tried to paint at the RNC.

In 2004, Trump called pregnancy an “inconvenience” for employers. When a lawyer asked for a break during a deposition in 2011 to pump breast milk, Trump reportedly called her “disgusting.”

According to a June analysis conducted by the Boston Globe, the Trump campaign found that men who worked on Trump’s campaign “made nearly $6,100, or about 35 percent more [than women during the April payroll]. The disparity is slightly greater than the gender pay gap nationally.”

A former organizer for Trump also filed a discrimination complaint in January, alleging that she was paid less than her male counterparts.

When Trump was questioned about equal pay during a campaign stop last October, he did not outline his support for policies to address the issue. Instead, Trump suggested that, “You’re gonna make the same if you do as good a job.” Though he had previously stated that men and women who do the same job should be paid the same during an August 2015 interview on MSNBC, he also cautioned that determining whether people were doing the same jobs was “tricky.”

Trump has been all but completely silent on child care so far on the campaign trail. In contrast, Clinton released an agenda in May to address the soaring costs of child care in the United States.

Ivanka’s claims were not the only attempt that night by Trump’s inner circle to explain why women voters should turn to the Republican ticket. During an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Manafort said that women would vote for the Republican nominee because they “can’t afford their lives anymore.”

“Many women in this country feel they can’t afford their lives, their husbands can’t afford to be paying for the family bills,” claimed Manafort. “Hillary Clinton is guilty of being part of the establishment that created that problem. They’re going to hear the message. And as they hear the message, that’s how we are going to appeal to them.”

What Else We’re Reading

Vox’s Dara Lind explained how “Trump’s RNC speech turned his white supporters’ fear into a weapon.”

Now that Mike Pence is the Republican nominee for vice president, Indiana Republicans have faced “an intense, chaotic, awkward week of brazen lobbying at the breakfast buffet, in the hallways and on the elevators” at the convention as they grapple with who will run to replace the state’s governor, according to the New York Times.

“This is a party and a power structure that feels threatened with extinction, willing to do anything for survival,” wrote Rebecca Traister on Trump and the RNC for New York Magazine. “They may not love Trump, but he is leading them precisely because he embodies their grotesque dreams of the restoration of white, patriarchal power.”

Though Trump spent much of the primary season denouncing big money in politics, while at the RNC, he courted billionaires in hopes of having them donate to supporting super PACs.

Michael Kranish reported for the Washington Post that of the 2,472 delegates at the RNC, it is estimated that only 18 were Black.

Cosmopolitan highlighted nine of the most sexist things that could be found at the convention.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) asked, “Where are these contributions that have been made” by people of color to civilization?

News Law and Policy

Voting Rights Advocates Notch Another Win, This Time in Texas

Imani Gandy

This makes two voting rights victories in as many days for voting rights advocates. A federal judge on Tuesday in Wisconsin ruled that voters who unable to comply with the state's photo ID requirement would be allowed to vote in the November's election.

The ultra-conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a surprising victory for voting rights advocates, ruled that Texas’s voter ID law disproportionately burdened Black and Hispanic voters in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965.

The decision means Texas can’t enforce the law in November’s presidential election.

Wednesday’s ruling was the latest in a convoluted legal challenge to the Texas law, which conservative lawmakers passed in 2011 and is among the most stringent voter ID laws in the nation. Voting rights advocates challenged the measure almost immediately, and the law remained blocked until the Roberts Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder revived it.

The Court in Shelby struck down a key provision of the VRA, Section 4, which is the coverage formula used to determine which states must get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice or the District Court for the District of Columbia under Section 5 of the VRA before making any changes to their election laws. States with a history of racially discriminatory voting requirements like Texas were covered by the Section 4 pre-clearance requirement before the Shelby decision.

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Within hours of the Court’s ruling in Shelby, Texas officials announced that they would begin enforcing SB 14, the restrictive voter ID law.

In response, a group of Texas voters sued Texas under a different portion of the civil rights law, arguing SB 14 violates Section 2 of the VRA, which forbids voting procedures that discriminate on the basis of race. Unlike Section 5 of the VRA, which requires state officials prove a voting rights law has no discriminatory intent or effect, under Section 2, the burden of proving racial discriminatory intent or effect is placed on voters to prove the restriction discriminated against their voting rights.

Both the district court and a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit agreed and found that SB 14 had a discriminatory affect in violation of Section 2 of the VRA. Texas then requested that the Fifth Circuit rehear the case en banc, with the full slate of judges on the Fifth Circuit.

The full Fifth Circuit issued that decision Wednesday, handing Texas conservatives a decisive loss.

“The record shows that drafters and proponents of SB 14 were aware of the likely disproportionate effect of the law on minorities, and that they nonetheless passed the bill without adopting a number of proposed ameliorative measures that might have lessened this impact,” Judge Catharina Haynes wrote for the majority.

Texas claimed that it had modeled its law after Indiana’s law, which was upheld in another challenge, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board. The Fifth Circuit, however, rejected Texas’s argument, finding obvious differences between the two laws that affected its decision that Texas’s law had a discriminatory impact on people of color.

“While cloaking themselves in the mantle of following Indiana’s voter ID law, which had been upheld against a (different) challenge in Crawford, the proponents of SB 14 took out all the ameliorative provisions of the Indiana law,” Haynes wrote.

One such ameliorative provision was an indigency exception, which the GOP-dominated Texas house stripped from the law. That exception would have freed indigent people from any obligation of paying fees associated with obtaining a qualified photo ID.

Although the Fifth Circuit found that the law violates the Voting Rights Act, the Fifth Circuit did not fashion a remedy for this violation and instead, remanded the case back to the lower court, instructing it that the “remedy must be tailored to rectify only the discriminatory effect on those voters who do not have SB 14 ID or are unable to reasonably obtain such identification.”

In addition, the appeals court reversed the lower court ruling that Texas had intended to discriminate against racial minorities. The court found evidence to support such a claim, but ultimately found that the district court’s overall findings were insufficient, and sent the case back to the district court to reconsider the evidence.

Nevertheless, voting rights advocates hailed the decision as a victory.

“We have repeatedly proven—using hard facts—that the Texas voter ID law discriminates against minority voters,” Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center and an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement, according to the Texas Tribune. “The 5th Circuit’s full panel of judges now agrees, joining every other federal court that has reviewed this law. We are extremely pleased with this outcome.”

Texas Republicans, including former governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry, rushed the law through the GOP-majority legislature in 2011, arguing that it was necessary to prevent voter fraud, even though voter fraud has been found to be almost nonexistent in other Republican-led investigations.

Politifact found in March of this year that since 2002, there had been 85 election fraud prosecutions, and not all of them resulted in convictions. To put that in perspective, from 2000 to 2014, some 72 million ballots were cast in Texas, not counting municipal and local elections.

Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, argued in 2015 that most of the Texas prosecutions would not have been prevented by the voter ID law, since the prosecutions were not for in-person voter fraud, but rather for marking someone else’s absentee ballots without their consent, fake registrations, or voting while ineligible.

“There are vanishingly few instances of voter fraud—incidents flat-out, not just prosecutions—that could be stopped by applying a rule requiring ID at the polls,” Levitt said, according to Politifact.

Opponents of SB 14 cited the near absence of proven in-person voter fraud, arguing that the law was intended to dilute the voting strength of the state’s increasing population of people of color, many of whom do not have photo identification and who would find it difficult to obtain it, as the opinion noted.

Laws requiring photo identification disparately impact people of color, students, and low-income voters, all groups who tend to vote for Democrats rather than Republicans.

Nevertheless, Texas conservatives continue to insist that the law was appropriately tailored to address voter fraud. “Voter fraud is real, and it undermines the integrity of the process,” said Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in a statement on Wednesday, according to the Texas Tribune.

Texas may appeal to the Supreme Court and ask the high court to intervene, although given that the Roberts Court remains short one judge, a 4-4 split is possible, which would leave in place the Fifth Circuit’s ruling.

This makes two voting rights victories in as many days for voting rights advocates. A federal judge on Tuesday in Wisconsin ruled that voters who unable to comply with the state’s photo ID requirement would nevertheless be allowed to vote in the upcoming election in November.