Kampala lawyer wins top international human rights award

Human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo has won the 2021 Human Rights Tulip prize that was started by the Dutch government in 2008.

The prize is intended to support human rights defenders, boost the visibility of their work and inspire others.

Since 2013, the focus has been on the innovative character of the work these courageous individuals and organizations do.

The Dutch Foreign Affairs Ministry awards human rights defenders or human rights organizations approximately Shillings 400 million prize and a bronze Tulip sculpture annually to support the important work they do.

Opiyo is the Executive Director of the embattled Chapter Four Uganda, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)dedicated to the protection of civil liberties and promotion of human rights for all.

He has played an important role in criminalizing torture in Uganda and has also successfully campaigned against a Ugandan anti-gay law.

Opiyo was among the 74 nominees drawn from Asia, the Middle East and North Africa MENA-region, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Americas.

They included 22 female contenders, 28 males, 23 organizations, and one community.

Reacting to his triumph, Opiyo dedicated the award to the staff members, board of directors, clients of Chapter Four Uganda, and the Ugandan human rights defenders community.

“This one is for you,” the Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister, Ben Knapen, said while handing Opiyo the award. The Dutch Foreign Ministry’s blog website quoted the minister, saying he sees human rights defenders as key workers who can help to protect basic rights and help the human race move forward.

“His work has made the LGBTI community in Uganda feel stronger, in the knowledge that they have allies who support them,” Knapen said.

The Minister noted that because of his work, Opiyo has been threatened, spied on, and persecuted.

In December 2020, in the run-up to the elections, security picked up Opiyo and locked him up. “Even when Nicholas was in prison his work continued.

He gave other prisoners legal advice, and so managed to secure the release of 68 people and make them stronger so that they could also make a difference,” Knapen explained.

Although he was charged with money laundering, the government presented no evidence.

He spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve in jail.

Human rights activists see the charges against Nicholas as a way to hinder his work as a human rights lawyer.

Opiyo was announced the winner of the prestigious award on Monday ahead of the commemoration of the International Human Rights Day slated for December 10th, 2021.

As a child, Opiyo grew up in the epicenter of a brutal war between the Lord Resistance Army and government forces.

Today, working as a human rights lawyer, he says he is still being threatened, spied on, and shadowed.

The 2020 award went to Armenian LGBTI activist Lilit Martirosyan.


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