The award, which was presented during a ceremony yesterday 6th May 2019 at the residence of the Norwegian Ambassador in Kampala, is given annually by the European Union and Norway to recognise an outstanding contribution by a human rights defender in Uganda.
William Amanzuru was chosen as the winner because of his courageous defence of environmental rights in his local area, including speaking out against destruction of the Zoka Forest, the only natural rainforest in Adjumani District in North West Uganda. Zoka Forest has been targeted by illegal logging, which reduces biodiversity and increases the chances of landslides, making it harder for local communities to farm and sustain their livelihoods.
Because of his work to expose the powerful individuals behind the illicit activities, Mr. Amanzuru has faced threats, surveillance and intimidation. His family have also been targeted as a consequence of his activism.
"We are proud to recognise William's achievements, courage and passion for human rights through this award," said Norwegian Ambassador Susan Eckey, the host of this year's award. "We hope that this award increases awareness of the importance of protecting natural habitats for future generations and also the need to ensure human rights defenders like William are protected."
William Amanzuru is the founder of Friends of Zoka, an organisation campaigning for an end to illegal logging in Zoka Forest. Since learning more about the reality and effects of climate change, Mr. Amanzuru has made it his mission to combat illegal logging in Zoka Forest, in the process exposing the connections between illegal activities in his local area and systems of corruption that feed into the illicit global lumber trade.
Despite threats and intimidation against him, William has continued his activism. Through Friends of Zoka, he has also been involved in reforestation efforts and contributing to documentaries and other efforts to expose the illegal practices damaging his local community.
Reacting to the news of the award, Mr. Amanzuru said: "It is a miracle that I am alive today. It is difficult to explain to you what has happened to me. I don’t stay with my family. It is not because I don’t love them. My four year old son has been asking me why I am an absentee father. These are the most touching things. But what gives us courage to pursue human rights is when I stand before you to be awarded with this kind of award. It gives me strength, it adds on the momentum I have, the passion I have. I know the earth amidst all the evils and abuses we are orchestrating against it through environmental abuse can still regenerate itself. But we must interest ourselves with what shall happen to us who call it home if we don’t act now."
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. William Amanzuru was chosen as the 2019 winner following a thorough review and shortlisting process involving a panel comprised of representatives of the EU Delegation, EU Member States and Norway. The award ceremony was attended by European Ambassadors, civil society leaders and human rights defenders, including several former winners of the EU HRD award.