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Religious leaders deplore intolerance and hatred in wake of David Kato's death

3. February 2011

    Over 70 religious representatives and 25 organizations have issued a statement in response to the violent death of David Kato in Uganda, calling on religious leaders "to speak, act and urge their faithful to reach out in compassion towards those who are marginalized for any reason and to resist all attempts to promote intolerance and hatred."

    David Kato was beaten to death in his home in Kampala on Wednesday, 26 January. The official investigation into Kato's death is ongoing, with police in Uganda saying the motive was robbery. His death, however, has highlighted the discrimination and violence faced by sexual minorities in Uganda and elsewhere, which some consider is fueled by the statements and actions of some religious leaders.

    Kato was a leading human rights activist in Uganda, who had recently won a court case against a Uganda 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 imposing life imprisonment for homosexual activity and even the death penalty in some cases.

    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 fueled 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 organizations 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 marginalization 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, recognize and promote the essential worth and dignity of every person."

    Signers include organizations 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; Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts, III, Chairman 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; Right 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 galvanize 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, recognizing 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 organizations 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 marginalization 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, recognize 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 marginalized for any reason and to resist all attempts to promote intolerance and hatred.

    We pray that David's death will galvanize 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 list of signatures is: HERE


The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance is a broad international network of churches and Christian organizations cooperating in advocacy on food and HIV and AIDS. The Alliance is based in Geneva, Switzerland. For more information, see http://www.e-alliance.ch/

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