A bright Wednesday afternoon it was on the 4th July,2014 as the annual European Union Human Rights Defenders Award was awarded by EU member states, Norway and the EU delegation in Uganda outstanding human rights defenders in recognition of the achievements of human rights defenders in Uganda. Human rights defenders (HRDs) are individuals that promote and protect universally recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms. These include civil and political rights as well as economic,social and cultural rights. The work of HRDs positively impacts on a country’s development and is essential for encouraging the respect for human rights as recognised by International human rights standards and agreements.HRDs need to be protected from interference and reprisals while executing their work and their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly need to be safeguarded to enable them to defend others.
The heads of Missions of the EU member states, the EU delegation and Norway announced that the 2014 award would be shared between three outstanding individuals which is a departure from the previous two where there was one individual winner.
The European Union Heads of mission with 2014 Annual Awards Nominees
Their exceptional work convinced the European Heads of Missions to award the 2014 EU Human Rights Defenders Award to all three individuals mentioned above. It is hoped that the award will encourage the winners to continue to make a crucial impact on Uganda’s development process. According Dr. Simone Knapp, Head of the Austrian Development Cooperation in Uganda and host of the EU Human Rights Defenders Award Ceremony 2014, ” Human Rights Defenders and civil society organisations are indispensable partners for governments, the European Union and equally the United Nations in highlighting violations of human rights and analysing their causes. The internet and social media tools have enabled sharing of information and concerns even more effectively. They are the ones that work in the field everyday an experience first hand what the great challenges are to the realisation of all human rights. At the same time, human rights defenders, the same as journalists facing increasing harrassment, inhibition and even violence as a consequence of their commitment to human rights. We must better protect human rights defenders and promote their work. Civil society can help us develop policies and instruments for tackling these challenges.”
This year’s winners joined Mr. Geofrey Wokulira Ssebagala former National Coordinator of Human Right Network for Journalists (HRNJ) and now Chief Executive officer of Unwanted Witness and Mr. Gerald Kankya of Twerwaneho Listeners Club (TLC) who won the ward respectively in 2013 and 2012. The European Missions in Kampala were thankful to all who participated in the nomination process and expressed their gratitude for the excellent cooperation and the outstanding work of the Ugandan Human Rights Defenders and their organisations.
Profiles of the winners in no particular order.
Gladys CANOGURA, Kitgum Women Peace Initiative (KIWEPI)
Is a tireless supporter of women’s amd girls’ rights in Northern Uganda,especially of those affected by the insurgency. She engages in governance and accountability programmes and fights sexual and gender – based violence.
ACP Christine ALALO, Uganda Police Force (UPF)
Heads the Family and Child Protection Unit at the police headquarters in Naguru,Kampala. She regularly mediates and provides advice in cases involving domestic violence and child abuse and is committed to protect the rights of society’s most vulnerable.
Mohammed Ndifuna, Human Rights Network Uganda (HURINET)
He is the Chief Executive Officer of Human Rights Network Uganda since 2006 and in this position he has contributed immensely to the improvement of human rights adherence in the country focusing on reforms in the Justice, Law and Order sector.
He is the Chairperson of the board of the National Coalition of human rights defenders- Uganda that was launched in June 2013 to enhance the protection of human rights defenders in Uganda.
In his acceptance speech, Mr Mohammed stated that;
“Iam greatly humbled and honored to be receiving an EU Human Rights Defenders’ Award. But this is not my award per se – but it is for people of minds alike, many known and unknown serving the values of humanity in different corners of this country – beyond the cities and the villages around the world. These people have and continue to walk in solidarity, a value that we hold so dearly in our quest for the advancement of the human rights agenda in Uganda and beyond.”
He noted that his contribution has come at grave personal safety and security perils but the courage and solidarity from fellow human rights defenders has enabled him to carry. He acknowledged support from family, colleagues at the secretariat and partners. He was thankful to HURINET-U for according him the opportunity and support to do the little that he as been able to do for which he has been recognised.
“Such an award compliments the inexplicable satisfaction that one gets just knowing that you have helped a fellow human being to reclaim or better protect his or her right.This is the true essence of our human rights movement for which we stand!”
He stated that he firmly believes in the value of collaboration and networking in the struggle for human rights. And continued to say this is particularly so when HRDs are working in a difficult terrain, and as thus have to be each other’s voice and watch each other’s back. He re-quoted Martin Niemoller’s words,
” First they came for the communists, and i did not speak out
because i was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and i did not speak out
because i was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and i did not speak out
because i was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and i did not speak out
because i was not a Jew;
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me!”
Head of delegation of the European Union delegation Amb. Kristian Schmidt shares a light moment with Ms. Gladys Canogura and Mr. Mohammed Ndifuna the two recepients of the 2014 EU HRD Award flanked by colleagues from Human Rights Network Uganda.