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Adjumani Environment Activist Wins EU Human Rights Award

Speaking in Amuru district last year, President Yoweri Museveni said he was dismayed by the extent of the damage the forest has suffered in the hands of illegal loggers when he flew over it. He vowed to crack whips on those behind the illegal logging. Since then, several people have been investigated over involvement in deforestation in the Forest.
07 May 2019 16:32
EU Ambassador Attilio Pacifici and Norwegian Ambassador Susan Eckey with Mr William Amanzuru
William Amanzuru, the founder of Friends of Zoka, the organisation campaigning for an end to illegal logging in Zoka Forest has won the 2019 European Union awards for Human Rights’ Defenders.         

Amanzuru becomes the 11th Ugandan to lift the prestigious EU award since it was founded in 2012. He was presented the award for defending Zoka forest from destruction during a ceremony held on Monday at the residence of the Norwegian Ambassador in Kampala.      

Through Friends of Zoka, Amanzuru has also been involved in reforestation efforts and contributing to documentaries and other efforts to expose the illegal practices damaging his local community. Zoka Forest descended under illegal logging which has depleted sections of its eco-systems in 2012.

Speaking in Amuru district last year, President Yoweri Museveni said he was dismayed by the extent of the damage the forest has suffered in the hands of illegal loggers when he flew over it.  He vowed to crack whips on those behind the illegal logging. Since then, several people have been investigated over involvement in deforestation in the Forest.          

Receiving the award, Amanzuru said the extent of the threats he faced during his activism makes his survival a miracle adding that he has become an absentee father in his own home.         

A statement for the European Union says 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.         

It adds that Zoka Forest, the only natural rainforest in Adjumani District in North Western Uganda has been targeted by illegal logging, which reduces biodiversity and increases 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” the statement reads in parts. 

According to the EU Statement, Amanzuru has made it his mission to combat illegal logging in Zoka Forest since he learned more about the reality and effects of climate change.         

Norwegian Ambassador Susan Eckey, the host of this year's award said they hope the award will increase awareness of the importance of protecting natural habitats for future generations and also the need to ensure human rights defenders like William are protected.       

The Human Rights Defenders’ Award is given annually by the European Union and Norway to recognize an outstanding contribution by a human rights defender in Uganda. 

  

The EU describes the Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) as individuals who, individually or with others, act to promote and protect universally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms including civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights.         

   

It says the group needs to be protected from interference and reprisals while executing their work. The HRDs' rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly need to be safeguarded to enable them to defend others.           

 

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).

Others are 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, the Director of the Human Rights Network Uganda.    

Founder & Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) Dr Livingstone Sewanyana won in 2015 while Robert Sempala of the Human Rights Network of Journalists (HRNJ) won in 2016, Founder & Executive Director of the Gulu Women’s Economic Development & Globalization (GWED-G)Ms. Pamela Angwech took the award in 2017.

Two joint winners, Ms Margaret Arach Orech, Founder and Director of the Uganda Landmine Survivors Association (ULSA) and Peter Sewakiryanga, a pastor with Kyampisi Childcare Ministries (KCM) were presented the award in 2018.