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Uganda’s Government Must Investigate Killing of LGBTQ+ Activist, Says Human Rights Watch


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After a fatal attack on LGBTQ+ activist Brian Wasswa this month, international nonprofit Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on Uganda’s government to investigate his death and other attacks on the country’s LGBTQ+ community.

Wasswa, HRW reports, was attacked on Oct. 4 in Jinja, in the eastern region of Uganda. Wasswa was trained as a paralegal at the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) — which provides legal aid to vulnerable communities, including people who are LGBTQ+. He also worked as a peer educator with the AIDS Support Organisation (TASO).

Wasswa was openly LGBTQ+, and identified as a gender non-conforming person. Wasswa, who lived alone, was attacked at home.

Deputy Executive Director of HRAPF Edward Mwebaza told HRW that, after the attack, Wasswa found unconscious by neighbourhood children.

“Neighbours rushed Wasswa to Jinja Hospital, where doctors found that he was still alive but had been struck on the head multiple times by a sharp object,” HRW said in a statement.

“When Wasswa did not respond to treatment, on Oct. 5, his colleagues at HRAPF requested an ambulance to transfer him to Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda’s capital city," the statement continued.

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Wasswa died in the ambulance on the way to Kampala. HRW also reports that police at the Jinja central police station are investigating the murder.

Oryem Nyeko, Africa researcher at HRW, said: “In the wake of the horrific murder of Brian Wasswa, the Ugandan government should be making it crystal clear that violence is never acceptable, regardless of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“Instead, a government minister charged with ethics and integrity is threatening to have gay people killed at the hands of the state,” Nyeko continued, referring to recent reports that Uganda’s government was seeking to bring in the death penalty for homosexuality.

Informally known as the “Kill the Gays” bill, it was first tabled in 2009 by then member of parliament David Bahati. It eventually fell through, however, in 2014 after the constitutional court of Uganda found it to be invalid.

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Talk of the bill was reignited on Oct. 10 by the country’s minister of ethics and integrity, Simon Lokodo.

Lokodo told Reuters that the bill had the support of the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni. This claim was denied by the president’s spokesperson who released a later statement denying that the bill is back on the cards.

Whether or not the bill goes ahead, HRW believes that more needs to be done to protect the country’s LGBTQ+ community, including prosecuting hate crimes committed against them.

The call by HRW comes after several high-profile and violent attacks made against the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda.

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In recent months, three people who were gay or transgender have been killed. HRW reports that in the beginning of August, a group of motorcycle taxi drivers attacked and killed Fahad Ssemugooma Kawer. She was a transgender woman.

HRAPF has also been the subject of violent attacks, and in February 2018 two security guards were seriously injured during a break-in at the organisation’s offices in Kampala. Another HRAPF security guard was beaten to death in 2016. There hasn’t been any justice for the attacks.

Nyeko told HRW: “It is incumbent on the Ugandan authorities to deliver justice for the murder of Brian Wasswa. Police should conduct thorough investigations, and political leaders should refrain from any rhetoric that might encourage violence against LGBT people.”