As Ugandan police begin their investigation, the death of prominent Ugandan rights activist David Kato is being roundly condemned by rights groups worldwide. Kato, 43, was found dead inside of his Kampala home Wednesday, the victim of an apparent blow to the head.
Amnesty International Uganda Researcher Godfrey Odongo called on police to conduct thorough investigations immediately.
“Amnesty International is appalled and shocked by the death of this leading, prominent human rights activist who has worked on issues of lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender rights for a long time,” Odongo said. “We, along with other organizations, call upon the Ugandan government to ensure an impartial and credible investigation into the murder.”
While rights groups and fellow activists suspect homophobia to have played a role in the attack, government officials believe it was not an issue in Kato’s death.
Police told reporters Thursday, Kato’s murder was most likely the result of a robbery, citing missing items in Kato’s home and statements from neighbors who witnessed the suspects exiting the house.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, however, has urged police not to rule homophobia, or any motive out of the investigation. Ugandan Police have arrested one man in connection with the killing and are searching for another, who had reportedly been staying with Kato.
Homophobia, though present in much of sub-Saharan Africa, is a particularly prominent issue in Uganda. Homosexuals in Uganda frequently face physical intimidation and death threats when their sexual orientation is made public.
Recently, tabloids such as the Ugandan newspaper Rolling Stone have taken to publishing photos as well as the personal information, including addresses and phone numbers, of homosexuals in Uganda. The publication also encourages readers to harm those in its pages, printing such slogans as “hang them” next to the pictures.
Kato was recently the target of such a campaign by Rolling Stone. The activist successfully took the tabloid to court, winning an injunction against the publication of activists’ names, pictures and personal information.
The Ugandan parliament is also still considering the infamous “anti-homosexuality bill” which, until last year included the death-penalty for homosexual acts committed by HIV-positive individuals.
Amnesty’s Odongo says the Ugandan government must do more in the fight against homophobia.
“The Ugandan government must unequivocally come out to state that discrimination on whatever grounds, including sexual orientation grounds, is not permitted,” Odongo added. “The government must move with speed and haste to make it clear publically that the actions and activities of sections of the media such as Rolling Stone is not acceptable.”
David Kato was the leader of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a group dedicated to securing rights and government protection for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Ugandans. U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement after Kato’s death praising his work and promising increased support of rights activists worldwide.