Freelance investigative journalist cum-lawyer Agatha Atuhaire has won this year's European Union (EU) Human Rights Defenders Award.
Atuhaire beat her fellow investigative journalist, Solomon Sserwanja and Richard Lusimbo, a human rights activist, filmmaker and public speaker.
According to the EU, this year’s competition attracted 88 nominees from all over the country however only three were shortlisted. The award is given to individuals in recognition of their significant contributions to human rights provided in the past year.
It seeks to give increased visibility to human rights defenders, who, despite the important work they do may not be so well known nationally and internationally.
Speaking at the awarding ceremony which was held at the residence of the Netherlands Ambassador to Uganda in Kololo, Atuhaire said; “It is with great honour and humility that I receive this prestigious award. The human rights defenders in this country go through a lot. Activism in this country is harder than in any other country. This award is something that you would look forward to or that can re-energize you.”
“I am grateful to my fellow finalists. I am not doing a better job than you have. We have all been through a lot trying do what we think works for this country. This is not because others are not doing an incredible job, it must be because God chose me to be today and this can only encourage us to do more,” she said.
Atuhaire said " I am called a small girl. What does she call herself? Who is she? What does she have? Today, this is to show that I actually have more power than they think and that's why they are afraid. I haven't been in activism for so long. I was a mainstream journalist. Journalists are not supposed to be activists because we are supposed to be objective. You are not allowed to show what you believe in or side with.
When I was in the ninth parliament, I wrote more about the former speaker Rebecca Kadaga than about the current speaker who thinks that I am her number one enemy but no one knew the work I was doing in mainstream journalism. When I saw that the abnormal way of doing things is much more disruptive, and more effective that you have more people who access what you have written on social media than they did when I wrote a 2000-piece article in The Independent or in Daily Monitor. What we need is, what can we do to reach the people and create an impact. So I decided to put my work there.
"Not everyone has a voice, not everyone has the courage, and not everyone has the platform. When I get the recognition that is more than I ever imagined getting, it’s overwhelming," she said.
The EU Ambassador Jan Sadek said leading human rights defenders demonstrate that universal values are not just words that sound nice in a speech, but that they have real-life meaning and can transform people's lives. These universal rights are inherent to us, regardless of nationality, sexual orientation, gender, identity, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. Upholding these rights means
The EU applauds Uganda for enacting such a progressive constitution, and we commit ourselves to work with all Ugandan stakeholders, to make sure that all the laws that are made including those currently, under consideration, are in line with Chapter Four of the Constitution as well as Uganda's international human rights obligations.
"Adhering to human rights principles allows us to foster a clear pathway to sustainable peace, equitable economic development and inclusion in society. The struggle for human rights is an ongoing one in all parts of the world and in Uganda," he said.
The Ambassador of the Netherlands Karin Boven human rights defenders in Uganda have been at the forefront of fighting injustices and advocating for human rights, despite the prevailing odds that seek to silence them.
"Human rights violations continue to occur in Uganda and elsewhere. Progress is urgently needed to ensure that everyone in this country has their human rights respected protected and fulfilled regardless of age, ethnic background, religion and gender," she said.