May 3, 2011 / 5:40 PM / 6 years ago

Uganda gay activist woman wins major rights award

GENEVA (Reuters) - Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, founder of a gay rights movement in Uganda where as in many African countries homosexuality is illegal, has won a major international award for her work, it was announced Tuesday.

The Geneva-based Martin Ennals Foundation said it was honoring Nabagesera with its annual prize, worth some 20,000 Swiss francs ($23,240), for human rights defenders as “an exceptional woman of a rare courage, fighting under death threats for human dignity and the rights of homosexuals and marginalized people in Africa.”

The award comes three months after the murder of David Kato, another prominent gay activist in Uganda where a law is under discussion providing for execution rather than just long imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality.”

Police in Kampala say Kato, who worked with Nabagesera to counter widespread homophobia in the country, was killed by a sex partner but other gay Ugandans argue the government was seeking to deflect international criticism.

The Ennals prize is the main award of the global human rights movement and the jury includes representatives of leading campaign bodies like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists.

The award, named after Amnesty’s first secretary-general Martin Ennals who died in 1991, is to be used “for further work in the field of human rights,” the foundation said.

Nabagesera, founder and executive director of Freedom and Roam Uganda, has appeared often on radio in her country to argue against homophobia and has frequently been physically attacked for her broadcasts, the citation said.

Compelled to move from house-to-house after a Ugandan tabloid included her in a list of gay people it said should be hanged, she continues to fight “for human dignity and the rights of homosexuals and marginalized people in Africa,” it added.

Homosexuality is illegal in 37 countries on the continent and anti-gay sentiments are widespread, boosted by fundamentalist Christian preachers -- many funded from the United States -- and Muslim clerics, experts say.

United Nations officials have criticized Uganda, and other African and Islamic states, for their stance on homosexuality, which they argue contradicts commitments under the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Uganda has also been under U.N. fire recently for its crushing of cost-of-living protests with the deaths of 8 people and injuries to many more, and for police treatment of opposition leader Kizza Besigye.

Editing by Stephanie Nebehay

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