Rita Aciro

Women’s rights defender Rita Aciro has been named as the winner of the EU Human Rights Defenders’ Award 2021. The award, which was presented during a ceremony on 29th April at the residence of the Ambassador of Germany in Kampala, is given annually by the European Union and Norway to recognise an outstanding contribution by a human rights defender in Uganda

Rita Aciro was chosen as the winner in recognition of her outstanding work to advance the role of girls and women in all aspects of life in Uganda. For many years, Ms. Aciro worked on topics including women’s land rights, women at the margins, women in peace building, rights and access to justice, economic rights and justice for women. In the past year, Ms. Aciro has played a leading role in efforts to promote the rights of women during Uganda’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and during the recently-concluded election period.

Because of her work to advance women’s rights and democratic freedoms, Ms. Aciro has faced consequences including the freezing of her organisation’s bank account for several months.

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Speaking during the award ceremony, Ambassador of Germany to Uganda His Excellency Matthias Schauer said “Human Rights need to be defended all over the world, and Human Right Defenders have a hard time in many countries. Fortunately all over the world and also in Uganda there are people with courage and determination who will speak out for Human Rights and in particular for disadvantaged groups and support them – overcoming many obstacles and often making great personal sacrifices.”

Receiving the award, Ms. Aciro said it was an honour to accept it “on behalf of the invisible Human/ Women Rights Defenders in the homes, communities and public spaces who may never have the opportunity to have the spot light and stage and yet who are doing a credible job in giving voice to women and girl’s rights.”

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. Aciro was chosen as the 2021 winner following a thorough review and shortlisting process involving a panel comprised of representatives of the EU Delegation, EU Member States and Norway.

Addressing the human rights situation in Uganda during today’s event, European Union Ambassador to Uganda His Excellency Attilio Pacifici said that “unlawful killings, abductions, the beating of journalists are not the marks of a Uganda that we all wish to see in the future.” Ambassador Pacifici underlined that “the European Union will not shy away from difficult conversations on these matters.”

The award ceremony was attended by European Ambassadors, civil society leaders, government representatives, Members of Parliament and human rights defenders.

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; and Mr Aimé Moninga (2020), Founder of Men of Hope and an advocate for the rights of male survivors of sexual violence in conflict.