The U.S. Mission in Uganda has recognized activist Margaret Sekaggya with the Dorothy Ngalombi Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of her outstanding service and achievements as a human rights defender.
By Joto La Jiwe
The African Human Rights Media Network
Sekaggya received the award during the U.S. Mission Alumni Impact Awards Ceremony held at Sheraton Hotel on Saturday, 21 January.
“It has been a pleasure working world over, at the UN Council, and General Assembly, fighting for human rights defenders. We need to do more. You know we are having a lot of challenges, but we have a lot of successes which we should build on,” Sekaggya said in her acceptance speech.
Before she founded the Human Rights and Peace Center, of which she is currently the executive director, Sekaggya served as the Chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), which she also helped establish. She has been a leader in human rights for over 30 years in Uganda and the world. Sekaggya was also the first United Nations special rapporteur for human rights defenders.
Sekaggya was recognized with the highest award, beating former Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga.
In 2009 and 2010 when the infamous Anti-Homosexuality Bill had taken center stage in Uganda, the two women held diverging views. Kadaga was the chief architect of the bill which she described as a “Christmas Gift” to Ugandans while Sekaggya opposed the bill which she described as draconian.
While serving as a Special UN Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in 2010, Sekaggya issued a statement ahead of the final reading of the bill noting that the bill would be in breach of fundamental freedoms and human rights if adopted.
“The bill would not only violate the fundamental rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Ugandan people but would also criminalize the legitimate activities of men and women, as well as national and international organizations, who strive for the respect for equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” the statement read. “We urge Parliamentarians to refrain from adopting this draconian bill.”
In addition to a fine, the bill would have imposed on an offender imprisonment of at least five years, and in the case of a non-governmental organization (NGO), the cancelling of its certificate of registration and criminal liability for its director. The bill was later struck down by the Constitutional Court.
The Lifetime Achievement Award received by Sekaggya is named after the longest-serving Public Diplomacy Professional at the U.S. Embassy in Uganda, Dorothy Ngalombi, who is recognized for her work supporting U.S. government exchange program participants over the years.
The award is given to an alumnus who has had the greatest impact on their communities using the experience they gained while in the United States. The impact is defined as affecting policy or social change, providing meaningful social benefit, contributing to education, training, or raising awareness about important issues.
In her remarks at the award ceremony, the US Ambassador to Uganda Natalie E. Brown said that the United States believes in investing in people and that the Mission was proud to see the experiences, networks, and new perspectives gained through its programs positively impact communities.
“As we celebrate 60 years of the United States’ partnership with the Ugandan people, I can think of no better way to honor the work we are doing together than by celebrating the impact of U.S. exchange program alumni,” Brown said.
Joto La Jiwe, the author of this article, is a Ugandan correspondent for the African Human Rights Media Network. He writes under a pseudonym. Contact him at [email protected].