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Courage is our virtue and freedom is our goal

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, a gay rights activist from Uganda, has been shifting from house to house for years – never staying in the same place too long – due to the threats she has received because of her work.

UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights awards Kasha Nabagesera © Patrick Gillieron LoprenoThe founder of the gay rights organization Freedom and Roam Uganda, Nabagesera has been a human rights activist since she was 21 years-old and, since then, has played a leading role in the Ugandan movement to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (LGBT).

In Uganda, she has appeared on national television and spoken on several radio programmes on behalf of the gay community, becoming one of the first lesbians to speak out openly.

Earlier this year, her colleague David Kato, also a human rights activist, was murdered when a Ugandan newspaper published an article that included photos and whereabouts of gay men and lesbians – including Kato - calling for their hanging. Nabagesera also appeared on the list.

In recognition of her work, on 13 October 2011 Nabagesera was awarded the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.

Named after the late British lawyer who became the first head of the human rights organisation Amnesty International, the Geneva-based Martin Ennals rights award is granted annually to a person who has an exceptional record of fighting against human rights violations.

“The award pays tribute to the courage of men and women who make a stand, often risking their lives and those of their loved ones, to promote and defend human rights and basic freedoms,” said UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kyung-wha Kang, at the award ceremony. “The award not only recognizes the legitimacy of their work, but also increases their visibility and contributes to their protection.”

Described as “a leading light, an exceptional woman of a rare courage, fighting under death threat for human dignity,” by Hans Thoolen, the Chairman of the jury of the Martin Ennals Award, Nabagesera’s journey started when, together with a group of courageous friends, she set out to advocate for better treatment for LGBT people in Uganda.

“It was thus our duty,” she said “to fight against the injustices and prejudices suffered by this minority group. It was not an easy road to walk, and it is still not. With passion and great sacrifice, the LGBT movement was born.”

“The struggle for human rights is one struggle and no human rights defender should be left to do this work alone,” she said. “Courage is our virtue, and freedom is our goal.”

Both UN Human Rights chief, Navi Pillay, and UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon have called for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality and for further measures to counter discrimination and prejudice directed at LGBT people.

Kang said the UN Human Rights Council approved a historic resolution – in June 2011 - which expressed grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The resolution also requested the UN Human Rights chief to commission a study to document discriminatory laws and practices and how international human rights law can be used to end violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The report will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in 2012. 

13 October 2011

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