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Ugandan human rights defender Primah Kwagala wins EU Human Rights Defenders' Award 2022

The award, which was presented during a ceremony on 1st June at the residence of the Ambassador of Belgium in Kampala, is given annually by the European Union and Norway to recognise an outstanding contribution by a human rights defender in Uganda.

EU HoMs and 2022 EU HRD Award winner

Ms. Primah Kwagala was chosen as the winner in recognition of her outstanding recent work to advance human rights, and particularly the rights of women. The founder of the Women Pro Bono Initiative, an NGO, Ms. Kwagala’s work has advanced the rights of women and addressed human rights challenges in a number of key areas. During the COVID-19 lockdown, Ms. Kwagala worked tirelessly to ensure the release of women unjustly incarcerated for curfew violations, including mothers who were taking babies to hospital for treatment.

Her work has ensured that legal aid has reached many indigent women and she has also succeeded in providing sexual and reproductive health services to women with psychosocial challenges. In 2019, Ms. Kwagala heled to secure the repatriation of several women who had been trafficked to the Middle East and were trapped there in difficult conditions.

Speaking during the award ceremony, Ambassador of Belgium to Uganda His Excellency Rudi Veestraeten said "Woman in Uganda face numerous challenges, including gender and sexual related violence, violation of land and property rights, and equal access of girls to education. The Covid pandemic has further exacerbated this situation. The State and its authorities need to take part in the collective effort to respect and defend human rights for all Ugandans. More action by the Government is needed to tackle persisting human rights abuses and hold all perpetrators of human rights violations to account."

Receiving the award, Ms. Kwagala paid tribute to her fellow nominees and called for everyone to imagine a gender equal Uganda. She said: “I strongly believe the world can be diverse, equitable, and inclusive. We can achieve a world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women's equality. Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias”.

Once again, this year the EU and Norway received an overwhelming response to the call for nominations for the HRD Award, highlighting both the range of human rights issues but also the vibrancy of activism in the country. Ms. Kwagala was chosen as the 2022 winner following a thorough review and shortlisting process involving a panel comprised of representatives of the EU Delegation, EU Member States and Norway.  

Also shortlisted for this year’s award were human rights lawyer Mr. Eron Kiiza and community leader Mr. Kayinga Muddu Yisito. Mr. Kiiza was shortlisted for his courageous defence of victims of human rights abuses including unlawful detention and torture. His legal work has also focused heavily on the defence of the environment, including a legal case to challenge the destruction of Bugoma Forest. Mr Muddu Yisito is the Executive Director of Community Foundation Transformation Network (COTFONE), an NGO based in Masaka. Their work seeks to empower local communities in the greater Masaka region. Much of Mr. Muddu Yisito’s work in recent years has focussed on addressing concerns related to environmental destruction and access to compensation related to the planned oil developments in the region. Because of this work, he has faced a number of threats and the theft of devices from COTFONE offices earlier in 2022.

Ms. Anna Merrifield, Chargé d’Affaires a.i. of the EU to Uganda said “Once again, the HRD Award has highlighted the immense contribution being made to the advancement of human rights by courageous human rights defenders. In particular, the work of the three HRDs shortlisted for the 2022 award reminds us of the importance of advancing women’s rights, combatting torture and defending environmental rights in Uganda.”

Background

Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) are individuals who, individually or with others, act to 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 has a positive impact 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. The HRDs' rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly need to be safeguarded to enable them to defend others. An individual eligible for the EU HRD Award is nominated by another individual or organisation. Human Rights organisations active in Uganda were invited to nominate candidates for the award. Candidates were assessed by a panel composed of human rights experts of different European Embassies and the EU Heads of Mission.

Past winners of the EU HRD Award include Mr Gerald Kankya (2012) of Twerwaneho Listeners Club,  Mr Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala (2013) former Coordinator of Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ), the three joint winners (2014) Ms Gladys Canogura of Kitgum Women Peace Initiative, Assistant Commissioner of Police Christine Alalo, Head of the Uganda Police Family and Child Protection Unit, and Mr Mohammed Ndifuna, Director of the Human Rights Network Uganda, Dr. Livingstone Sewanyana (2015), Founder & Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) and Robert Sempala (2016) of the Human Rights Network of Journalists (HRNJ), Ms. Pamela Angwech (2017) Founder & Executive Director of the Gulu Women’s Economic Development & Globalization (GWED-G); two joint winners, Ms. Margaret Arach Orech, Founder and Director of the Uganda Landmine Survivors Association (ULSA) and Mr. Peter Sewakiryanga, a pastor with Kyampisi Childcare Ministries (KCM) in 2018; Mr William Amanzuru (2019), an environmental rights defender and founder of Friends of Zoka; Mr Aimé Moninga (2020), Founder of Men of Hope and an advocate for the rights of male survivors of sexual violence in conflict; and Ms. Rita Aciro (2021), Women’s Rights Defender and Executive Director of the Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET).

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