Religious leaders deplore bigotry after killing of David Kato

By staff writers
5 Feb 2011

Some 70 religious representatives and 25 organisations have issued a statement in response to the violent death of the gay rights activist David Kato in Uganda.

They are calling on religious leaders "to speak, act and urge their faithful to reach out in compassion towards those who are marginalised for any reason and to resist all attempts to promote intolerance and hatred."

The statement comes into circulation as Ugandan police continue to argue that Kato's death was the result of a burglary, and following the arrest of a man charged with the killing.

David Kato was beaten to death in his home in Kampala on Wednesday, 26 January. His death, whatever its cause, has highlighted the discrimination and violence faced by sexual minorities in Uganda and elsewhere - fuelled by the statements and actions of some religious leaders, critics say.

Kato was a leading human rights activist in Uganda. He had recently won a court case against a Ugandan newspaper for publishing his photo, with his name and address, along with those of other gay people, with the caption, "Hang Them."

In Uganda, homosexuality is illegal and an anti-homosexuality bill introduced last year called for the imposition of life imprisonment for homosexual activity and even the death penalty in some cases.

David Kato was also a Christian and involved in interreligious social action.

Peter Prove, Executive Director of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA), noted that from the experience of the EAA's HIV and AIDS campaign, discrimination against people on the margins of society, such as men who have sex with men, drug users and sex workers, have fuelled the HIV pandemic because it discourages individuals from receiving the information and services for prevention and treatment that they need.

"From this practical standpoint, we see that respecting human rights is essential - and indeed, given the universal religious understanding of God-given human dignity, religious leaders and organisations should be at the forefront of efforts to overcome stigma and discrimination and associated violence," Prove stated.

The statement, which was prepared by the EAA's HIV and AIDS strategy group, acknowledges that the official investigation is ongoing but states, "we abhor and denounce all violence such as that which took David's life - and especially if such violence is motivated by discriminatory attitudes towards people on the basis of their sexual orientation or marginalisation in society."

The statement calls on "all governmental, civil and religious authorities in Uganda and around the world to speak out against hate, stigma and discrimination, and instead, in words and deeds, recognise and promote the essential worth and dignity of every person."

Signatories include organisations such as the World YWCA, Church of Sweden, La Federación Argentina de Iglesias Evangélicas, United Church of Christ Wider Church Ministries, Norwegian Church Aid, Christian AIDS Bureau of Southern Africa (CABSA) and Cordaid. Among the individuals signing the statement are Rev. Martin Junge, General Secretary, The Lutheran World Federation; the Rev Dr. Calvin Butts, III, Chair of the Board, National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, Inc. (USA); Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh, Chairman, Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha; Bishop Emeritus Dr Gunnar Stålsett, Moderator, European Council of Religious Leaders; Rev. Dr. Seppo Rissanen, Executive Director, Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission; the Rt Rev John Christie, Moderator, Church of Scotland; Berit Hagen Agøy, General Secretary, Church of Norway Council on Ecumenical and International Relations and Canon Gideon Byamugisha, Goodwill Ambassador on HIV and AIDS for Christian Aid, UK.

Other religious leaders have also spoken out in reaction to Kato's murder, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates of the Anglican Communion, who have stated that "no one should have to live in fear because of the bigotry of others."

Those signing the EAA statement conclude, "We pray that David's death will galvanise a swift and uncompromising global reaction against hatred and violence and help to create a world of peace with justice which is safe for everyone to call home."

The full text of the statement follows:

As people of faith, recognising and upholding the God-given dignity and value of every human life, we are appalled by the violent death of leading Ugandan social activist David Kato. As religious communities and organisations working to strengthen the global HIV response and to challenge stigma and discrimination that undermines that response, we mourn the loss of a courageous activist in the struggle for dignity and human rights that are essential to overcoming the HIV pandemic.

Fundamental to all religions is a respect for human life and dignity. Our faith proclaims that all human beings are made in the image of God. While we await the outcome of official investigations into David's murder, we abhor and denounce all violence such as that which took David's life - and especially if such violence is motivated by discriminatory attitudes towards people on the basis of their sexual orientation or marginalisation in society.

We call for a full and thorough investigation into the circumstances of David's death, and for those responsible to be brought to justice. We urge all governmental, civil and religious authorities in Uganda and around the world to speak out against hate, stigma and discrimination, and instead, in words and deeds, recognise and promote the essential worth and dignity of every person. We call upon religious leaders to speak, act and urge their faithful to reach out in compassion towards those who are marginalised for any reason and to resist all attempts to promote intolerance and hatred.

We pray that David's death will galvanise a swift and uncompromising global reaction against hatred and violence and help to create a world of peace with justice which is safe for everyone to call home.

The full list of signatures can be found here (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat file): http://www.e-alliance.ch/fileadmin/user_upload/docs/Press_Release/2011/K...

[Ekk/3]

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 England & Wales License. Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.