Really. I searched for it and everything.
The Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA), created in 1993, is granted annually to someone who has demonstrated an exceptional record of combating human rights violations by courageous and innovative means. That’s directly from their website, here. The recipient is chosen by a jury of human rights organisations: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Federation of Human Rights, World Organisation Against Torture, Front Line, International Commission of Jurists, Human Rights First, International Service for Human Rights, Diakonie Germany, HURIDOCS.
This year the award goes to Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesra. On 13th October 2011, Nabagesra will stand in the Victoria Hall of Geneva and become the 21st winner of the international human rights award, nominated by a jury of the whole movement.
Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera is the founder and executive director of FARUG, a leading LGBT rights organisation. In January this year her friend and colleague David Kato was murdered. A national newspaper has published pictures of people alleged to be homosexual under the headline HANG THEM. The Parliament of her country has made repeated efforts to pass an Act that would condemn people to death for their sexual orientation. An Anglican bishop has been sent into virtual exile because he argued against this “sexual apartheid“. Nabagesera lives in Uganda, and was moving from house to house to avoid being arrested or killed when, in May this year, she was announced as the winner of this award.
Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International’s Africa Program Director, said the award recognised “her immense courage as an outspoken voice for human rights amidst a climate of hatred and despicable violence towards lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in Uganda.”
Nabagesera is journeying towards Switzerland now. She is visiting other countries on her way to receive the award, being recognised and celebrated as a hero of equality activism and LGBT human rights. She was invited to be the guest of honour at a Pride celebration in Northern Ireland: Foyle Pride on 24th August.
She won’t be allowed to enter. The UK Border Agency has denied her a visa. They say this is because they have “concerns over her financial status at home in Uganda”. Their spokesperson says the onus is on Nabagesera to demonstrate that she can have a visa, perhaps including “evidence of financial ties to [her] home country” to indicate that she intends to return to Uganda after visiting the UK.
Sha Gillespie, chairperson of Foyle Pride, says: “As a city still evolving and dealing with the legacy of the past, Kasha’s message and story is of particular importance and relevance and inspirational for our wider community to hear. Foyle Pride has invested heavily in bringing Kasha to Derry despite having a very limited budget and relying on donations and the support of local businesses, money and resources that will now be lost. I can’t understand why the UK is the only country to deny her entry and deny the opportunity for the people of Derry and Northern Ireland as a whole the chance to hear this inspirational woman speak.”
What kind of a country turns away a hero of the human rights movement, due to receive a prestigious award in Switzerland in a matter of weeks, a hero who is having an expenses-paid trip to the UK in order to speak at a public event?
Twelve years ago, the British Ambassador to Jamaica, traveling with his wife and two children, was stopped at check-in by British Airways staff. The check-in staff “demanded to see a letter from his employer or other proof of his reasons for travelling to Jamaica.” Robert Reid pointed out to her – he and his family had diplomatic passports and were traveling Club class – that his employer was the British government, and he asked to use the desk phone to contact the Foreign Office. The BA check-in staff told the ambassador to use a public callbox: fortunately, his sister had come to see them off and she – unusually in 1999 – had a mobile phone he could use to call the FO to have them confirm to the airline that yes, DIPLOMAT on a passport has a specific meaning. How could BA staff have been so stupidly rude to a British Ambassador traveling out to his placement with his family?
British Airways response was very British: “Both myself and the check-in agent involved are appalled that a simple mistake by a member of staff, who was following stringent immigration procedures, has been reported as an alleged incident of racism.”
Goodness me. Just because check-in staff looked at a black man and the colour of his skin made them unable to read the word DIPLOMAT on his passport, how could anyone be so gauche as to accuse them of racism?
As Martin Jacques noted four years ago: “The fact that hardly anyone is ever prepared to admit to racist behaviour is perhaps a sort of strength: it speaks to the fact that racism is socially inadmissible. But it is also testimony to profound weakness, a measure of how little distance we have travelled as a society when it comes to understanding racism. For if the truth be told, we are a society that is dripping in racism.”
According to the UKBA’s outline of who can enter the UK as a general visitor, Nabagesra should have been readily awarded a visa. Her expenses are being paid by the non-profit entity which invited her: she has a work in Uganda she has literally dedicated her life to: and in any case, she is due in Geneva in less than two months to receive her award. How could the UK Border Agency decide that she couldn’t be allowed to attend Foyle Pride as the guest of honour?
Yeah. Dripping with it.
Please sign the petition here. If you are British, you can write to Theresa May, who is Home Secretary and, ironically enough, also Minister for Women and Equality, as: Home Secretary 2 Marsham Street London SW1P 4DF or use email@example.com or call 020 7035 4848. Check out this post at A Dragon’s Best Friend for good advice on how to write in order to get a constructive answer.