Last night, on the closing night of the Human Rights Watch film festival in New York City, the film “Call Me Kuchu” made its New York premiere. A film about David Kato, the first openly gay man in Uganda, “Call Me Kuchu” depicts the harrowing story of David and his journey as an activist, fighting against discriminatory state laws that subjected HIV-positive gay men to death and propose prison sentences for anyone who fails to turn in a known homosexual. David and his fellow LGBT activists had a difficult fight ahead of them, following the introduction of the “Anti-Homosexuality Bill,” up for debate in Ugandan parliament, pursuant to the American evangelical inspired “homosexual agenda.” Despite the obstacles ahead, David did not back down and continued to speak out for himself and other victims of discrimination like him, as an activist against state sanctioned discrimination and homophobia. Through his determination, David was ultimately able to make positive strides for the “kuchu” (homosexual) community in Uganda and achieved legal victory, when the Ugandan High Court ruled that by publishing names and pictures of 100 allegedly homosexual people and calling for their execution, a newspaper violated those people’s fundamental and constitutional rights.
David’s struggle showcases the need for strong voices and activists to not only shine a spotlight on government enforced discrimination, but to insist that such policies and legislation not be tolerated. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wisely wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and this is clearly evidenced by the impact of discriminatory policies within the framework of an international legal system. “Call Me Kuchu” delineates just one example of the horribly discriminatory state sanctioned discrimination and the terrifying impact it has on the discriminated group. We cannot allow similarly discriminatory policies to continue, such as the US ban on abortions funded by their humanitarian aid contributions and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) deference to national law regarding availability of abortions for pregnant ware rape victims.
By deferring to national rather than international law in the case of pregnant war rape victims, the ICRC is discriminating upon certain women based upon where they live, only providing the fullest extent of care practicable (as guaranteed by the Geneva Conventions) to women in countries that allow abortions. Furthermore, the US is one the largest contributor of humanitarian aid to the ICRC, but it places restrictions on its donations, preventing them from being used to administer abortions. By restricting its donation, the US is failing to allow the ICRC to provide the proper level of care even in places where it would be nationally permissible.
As pregnancy is only a condition that can befall women, such policies discriminate against women, because preventing women from receiving abortions is equivalent to failing to provide women with the fullest extent of medical care practicable. These practices are equally discriminatory with consequences equally dire, leading to imprisonment, ostracism, grave bodily harm, and even suicide and death. There is no denying that failure to provide abortions for pregnant war rape victims is discriminatory against women and the toll it takes on them, expressed in death, harm, and punishment, cannot be ignored. David’s fight reminds us all to stand up against discrimination, not to allow governments to institute unfair and unequal policies, and not to stop until there is equality for all.