Tatchell dedicates award to Ugandan human rights campaigners
Recognition for 44 years human rights work in the UK and internationally
London – 17 November 2011
“I dedicate my acceptance of this award to the heroic democracy, human rights, LGBTI and social justice activists in Uganda who are campaigning against the corrupt, authoritarian regime of President Yoweri Museveni. Many of them have been arrested, beaten, tortured and jailed. I walk in their shadow and salute their extraordinary courage,” said Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation (PTF).
He was speaking after being awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws by London South Bank University, at a ceremony held at Southwark Cathedral yesterday, Wednesday 16th November.
Speaking on behalf of the PTF Trustees, Acting Chair, Gill Butler, said:
“Peter Tatchell received this honour for his work as a human rights advocate and for his promotion of UK and international human rights law. See the full citation below.
“Others honoured were the architect David Adjaye, the former General Secretary of the Royal College of Midwives Dame Karlene Davis DBE and the artist Maggie Hambling CBE.
“For 44 years, Peter has worked tirelessly as an advocate for human rights, both in the UK and internationally. Often putting himself at great personal risk, many times he has been arrested and beaten. This award is a fitting tribute to his extraordinary, unswerving humanitarian commitment.
“Next year he is 60 years old. With no plans to retire, he intends to continue campaigning for another 30 years.
“Following the creation of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, his work will expand and continue for many decades to come,” said Ms Butler.
Commenting on receiving his honorary doctorate, Peter Tatchell said:
“I am very thankful to receive this recognition of my four decades promoting the enforcement of human rights law and, in particular, my innovative use of the legal power of citizen’s arrest in a bid to bring President Robert Mugabe to justice for the crime of torture.
“My contribution to human rights is small. But together with many other people, I have helped win major LGBTI law reforms, defended Muslims falsely accused of terrorism, secured asylum for LGBTI refugees, overturned infringements of civil liberties and supported the valiant work of LGBTI and human rights defenders in many countries. Our collective efforts have made a huge, positive difference.
“The citation mentions my two attempted citizen’s arrests of President Mugabe on charges of torture and my bid to secure an arrest warrant for Henry Kissinger on charges of war crimes over the indiscriminate carpet-bombing of Cambodia.
“I suspect this is the first time anyone has been given an Honorary Doctorate of Laws in tribute to an attempted citizen’s arrest of a President and an attempted indictment of a former US Secretary of State. I am honoured and most grateful,” he said.
CITATION by London South Bank University:
Pro Chancellor. Our final honorary graduand is something of a local institution. He has lived in Elephant and Castle for over 30 years, and last year was awarded a blue plaque by Southwark Council in recognition of his work. But while we should be proud to claim him for our borough, his influence extends far and wide and his tireless campaigning against human rights abuses has taken him from Balochistan to West Papua and most points in between.
An author, journalist and broadcaster, he has devoted his life to speaking out against discrimination and injustice, at considerable personal cost. He is Peter Tatchell.
Peter Tatchell was born in Australia. He began campaigning while still at school, working to set up a scholarship scheme and secure land rights for the Aboriginal population. He actively opposed the death penalty, and from 1968 campaigned vociferously against US and Australian involvement in the Vietnam War.
He moved to London in 1971, quickly becoming a leading member of the Gay Liberation Front. He organised sit-ins at pubs that refused to serve gay people, and spoke out against police harassment and the medical classification of homosexuality as an illness. In 1990, he co-founded the influential gay rights group OutRage!, which campaigned so successfully against alleged police harassment that the number of gay men convicted for consenting sexual behaviour in the UK fell by two-thirds in three years.
Alongside his work to tackle homophobia have been other long-running campaigns against apartheid, nuclear weapons, environmental degradation and the death penalty. He has spoken out against dictatorships in Franco’s Spain, Pinochet’s Chile and Khomeini’s Iran. He has campaigned for independence in East Timor and West Papua.
As well as playing a major role in the gay law reform in the UK, he has worked to promote the enforcement of international human rights law. He has spoken out against human rights abuses in countries across the world including Uganda, Russia and Saudi Arabia. At Bow Street Magistrates’ Court, he attempted to secure the prosecution of Robert Mugabe and Henry Kissinger, respectively on charges of torture and war crimes, and he has twice attempted a citizen’s arrest on the Zimbabwean president. He is currently spearheading the Equal Love campaign, aimed at ending the bans on same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships.
Since 2009, he has been an ambassador for the penal reform group, Make Justice Work.
His campaigning activities have come at considerable cost. He has been placed under police surveillance, threatened with assassination and subjected to hundreds of personal assaults and attacks on his home. In 2001 he was beaten unconscious during his second attempt to arrest Robert Mugabe. In 2007, he suffered further brain and eye injuries when attacked by neo-Nazis at the Moscow Gay Pride March.
He works for 14 hours a day, seven days a week, and survives mainly on donations. ‘I can understand why people want a quiet, relaxed, material life,’ he says. ‘But on another level I can’t understand why people just accept things the way they are. One billion people woke up this morning without clean drinking water. That is outrageous. We live in a world of such plenty that it’s unconscionable that so many people don’t have the basics. That is just morally unacceptable.’
While his work may not have brought material rewards, it has brought considerable recognition. Among his many awards and plaudits, he has been voted Campaigner of the Year by The Observer newspaper, and twice included in the Evening Standard’s list of the 1000 Most Influential Londoners. In 2009, Sir Ian McKellen unveiled a blue plaque on the side of the block of flats where he lives and works.
Although ill-health has forced him to give up his plans to stand as a Green Party candidate, Peter Tatchell remains a driving force for change. Receiving an honorary doctorate at Sussex last year, he urged the audience, ‘Don’t accept the world as it is. Dream about what the world could be – then make it happen.’ Now, Pro Chancellor, for his outstanding achievements in the field of human rights both here in the UK and worldwide, I present to you Peter Tatchell for the degree of Honorary Doctorate of Laws.