Menschen "The dead can’t fight physical battles"

SWHR-Student Edward Mutebi had to flee Uganda because he was helping LGBT+ individuals

Zwei Männer an eine Balustrade gelehnt vor einem Porträt von der jungen Angela Merkel
Edward Mutebi (right) with writer Kakwenza at an exhibition of Angela Merkel at the history museum in Berlin. Edward Muteby helped in the rescue of Kakwenza to Germany after being tortured by the Ugandan Army Konrad Hirsch

You had to flee Uganda because of your homosexuality. What happened?

Uganda is one of the very many African countries that criminalise same-sex relationships. The violations of human rights against homosexuals by the authorities goes beyond what can be imagined. There is a high incidence of homelessness amongst the LGBTQ community. They are blackmailed and suffer unprovoked arrest. Abuse occurs while they are imprisoned. Many young homosexuals have to flee for their lives to neighbouring countries.

In 2015 I, too, suffered such treatment being subjected to blackmail, experiencing homelessness and numerous arrests on grounds of my homosexuality. I decided to found an organisation in support of other members of the LGBTQ community who were facing similar challenges at the time. Let’s walk Uganda is the very first ever organisation in Uganda to provide a safe housing shelter for these people, and it also offers numerous support services including legal support, health services, training in entrepreneurial skills and many other services. The organisation was registered in 2016 despite several challenges. But as a consequence of my founding this organisation the severity of persecution against me increased. The most brutal attack came in 2017 when I was beaten till I lost consciousness . This attack convinced me to seek safety outside my beloved country. I saw the pointlessness of losing my life since the dead can’t fight physical battles. I decided to keep fighting for our rights outside Uganda, and hence my move to Germany in 2018.


Let’s Walk Uganda was attacked this August and besieged by the Ugandan police. How is the situation right now?

This August, just one day after the government had already shut down the SMUG organisation (Sexual Minorities of Uganda), the Let’s Walk Uganda (LWU) offices and safe shelter were surrounded by both uniformed and non-uniformed state security operatives.

However, this was not the first time LWU had witnessed such violations. In October 2019, the Ugandan police had raided the offices and safe house shelter of LWU without warrant, beat up everyone who was inside the premises, and arrested sixteen members of the Organisation including its staff. The sixteen where detained beyond the 48 hour limitation. Some were denied access to their medications including life-essential ARVs. The most egregious abuse of all, however, was that all were subjected to forced anal examinations. This, being a very painful procedure, was torture.

Fortunately, the raid last August was not nearly so disastrous. The Police found our premises nearly empty. There was only one staff member present since the rest were away attending a workshop. Following this, however, the organisation was advised by its legal team to relocate its premises to a safer and more secure environment, and also to devise means to increase the security of the place. There was also financial support from a variety of donors. We are now working on formulating strategies by means of which we can stop these government attacks on organisations such as the LWU, including the possibility of even prosecuting the Ugandan police. The situation now is that the organisation’s workers remain fearful, and this situation has affected our work. Some of our projects have had to be interrupted.


You are also active in Germany now, fighting for human rights. What do you do?

Once in Germany, I was intent not to rest in the safety that had come to me as an officially recognised refugee. I decided to keep on advocating for human rights. I wanted to be a voice for those who would be silenced by a wide range of forces. While in Munich, I volunteered with organisations like SUB, to support fellow LGBTQ refugees. I also took part in the campaign in Munich that called upon landlords to offer flats to those with recognised refugee status. I campaigned in Berlin for those suffering from HIV/Aids. My image was often used in these campaigns as, for example, in the “Ich weiss was ich tu” campaign, among others. I am always glad and humbled to be part of any campaign that fights for the well-being and human rights of other people. I am also involved with Queer Amnesty Berlin, Pen Berlin, and the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy. My work is basically to create awareness of the situation of LGBTQ persons not only in Uganda but throughout Africa. For example, I help in Ghana where their Parliament is now debating and likely to pass an anti-homosexuality law just like the one we have had in Uganda since 2013–2014.


You won the Uganda Pride Diaspora Award in 2022. What does it stand for?

The 2022 Uganda Pride Diaspora Award was part of the 10-year celebrations of Uganda Pride. Many persons where recognised who had supported the LGBTQ community in Uganda in different ways. As for me, I was recognised as a Ugandan activist who had left the country due to the threat of death but continued to advocate for the rights of LGBTQ community both in Uganda and elsewhere. As I mentioned earlier, I never stopped advocating for these rights. Even though I am now living a safer and more secure life in Germany, I still speak out against any violation that comes to my attention. I have also continued to offer my support to Let’s Walk Uganda which in turn supports as many community members as we can reach.


You are one of Pen Berlin’s founding members. How did this happen?

Pen Berlin is an association of writers. Among its mandates is the rescue of endangered writers from no matter what country. Pen offers these writers scholarships in Germany for them to feel safe and continue writing outside their countries. I am also a writer, and was considerably active in the Pen Germany when it helped in the rescue of two writers from Uganda, Dr. Stella Nyanzi and Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, from the current brutal dictatorial regime in Uganda. Dr.Stella Nyanzi was imprisoned for a year for just a social media post and for standing up against government oppression. Kakwenza had been arrested and tortured also for writing. My name was suggested and I was invited to be among the founding members of the new Pen Berlin, an offer with which I felt honoured and which I accepted immediately. Pen Berlin is a new symbol of diversity and inclusion, irrespective of race, age, social status or sexuality. I sit at the table with highly qualified individuals, and my views are respected.


Why did you decide to study for the Master’s degree in Social Work as a Human Rights Profession (SWHR) at ASH Berlin?

My passion for human rights motivates me in everything I do. I decided to do the SWHR-Master’s degree because of its uniqueness and its combination of both social work and human rights. These two aspects are very crucial and important in the world today – with unnecessary wars breaking out, the increased number of refugees, the incidence of famine and so many other calamities. Knowledge of both social work and human-rights and the very fact that these two always move together made me very much interested in the course. Secondly, I wanted to add to my knowledge and understanding of human rights. I knew that if I was to have an impact for change and favourably advocate for the rights of LGBTQ persons back in my country or around the world, I needed the academic credibility and expertise to speak with authority. Therefore, taking the SWHR Master’s course is a step further for me to be in position to advocate for rights more effectively.


How do you like the Master’s Program so far?

The Master’s Program has exposed me to a remarkable range of knowledge in different fields of life. First, the fact that the students are coming from different parts of the world, like Ethiopia, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Chile, Mexico, Colombia, Canada, Luxemburg, USA, UK and Germany means that a very rich and diversified range of knowledge and experience can be learned and appreciated. I therefore want to thank my classmates for being one of the main inputs that make me love this course.

Secondly, the teaching staff is amazing. Coming from different countries and universities, the faculty in these courses give us the opportunity to learn from professors from universities all across Europe. That means that we don’t only get knowledge from one source or one country. We acquire a wide range of mixed professional knowledge. This shines hopes for success on our futures.


What must be done in Germany to make the situation for refugees better?

I have to say that Germany is at the top of the list of countries that have the best asylum processes. That, I say proudly. However, a few matters could nonetheless be addressed. For example, the waiting times to do BAMF interviews and also the waiting time to get feedback following the BAMF interviews should be reduced. This would reduce the anxiety the asylum seekers face during these long waiting intervals.

Also, some cases of homophobic attacks in refugee camps have been registered in different parts of Germany. This should be avoided by separating LGBTQ refugees from other refugees who could inflict harm on them.

And finally, more support should be given to individuals who have been recognised as refugees. A follow-up program should be initiated by the government to keep tracking and supporting the progress of LGBTQ refugees or even all refugees in Germany. As it is, once you are recognised legally as a refugee, you are sent out there to start your life. But no one ever checks on you or on your progress. I think this should be changed since so many refugees end up getting lost along the way.


What are your next plans?

My next plans are basically linked to the completion of my Master’s degree. I hope to do my Master’s research and thesis writing in Kenya on the sensitive but critical topic of forced anal examination by government authorities, and also on the experience of LGBTQ refugees in Kenya. After my graduation, I hope to pursue a PhD to better understand and create more awareness about the violation of human rights through the practice of forced anal examination by government authorities.