Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday honored a group of Ugandan human rights activists at a ceremony in the country’s capital.
Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, was among the members of the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law who received the State Department’s 2011 Human Rights Defenders Award at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala. Both Clinton and Assistant Secretary of African Affairs Johnnie Carson thanked Mugisha by name for his advocacy on behalf of LGBT Ugandans.
“I’ve said before it is critical for all Ugandans — the government and citizens alike — to speak out against discrimination, harassment and intimidation of anyone. That’s true no matter where they come from, what they believe or whom they love,” said Clinton. “No one has been a stronger champion than all of you. You’ve been organized, disciplined, and savvy. You have marshaled the evidence and made the arguments using the rights enshrined in Uganda’s constitution and in international law. And by doing so, you are a model for others and an inspiration to the world.”
Clinton said she discussed the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill that once contained a provision that would have imposed the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts and ongoing violence against LGBT Ugandans during a meeting with President Yoweri Museveni earlier in the day. She also visited a clinic for people with HIV/AIDS funded by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
Both Clinton and President Obama urged the Ugandan government to protect the rights of its LGBT residents following the Jan. 2011 murder of gay activist David Kato inside his Kampala home. The White House and British Prime Minister David Cameron have also suggested that a country’s LGBT rights record should play a role in the allocation of foreign aid.
“I’m well aware that you do your work often amidst difficult, even dangerous circumstances. I know that some of your lives have been threatened, your friends and families intimidated. But I want you to know that the United States is and will be your partner,” Clinton told the activists. “I raised these issues with President Museveni today, because this isn’t just about carving out special privileges for any one group; this is about making sure universal rights are protected for all people. A violation of anyone’s rights is a violation of everyone’s rights.”
She reiterated this message in separate remarks to embassy staffers and their families.
“A few minutes ago, I presented the State Department’s 2011 Human Rights Defenders Award to the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law. This is, as many of you know, a group of brave men and women standing up for universal human rights right here in Uganda, not to carve out special privileges for any group, but to ensure that universal rights are shared by all people,” said Clinton. “We very much know the importance of this, because Uganda has so many talented people — men and women — and we want to see everybody have a chance to live up to their own God-given potential, to make a contribution to themselves, their families and to society and their country.”
Mugisha echoed Clinton’s sentiments.
“As Secretary Clinton stated, this prestigious human rights award emphasizes what we’ve been saying all along: we are not asking for special treatment. We are simply asking that the same rights afforded to every other Ugandan by our constitution and international law also be applied to the LGBTI community,” he told the Blade. “We are grateful for the support of Secretary Clinton in this work as we face tremendous opposition by Ugandan religious leaders and parliamentarians who want to make criminals out of human rights defenders and civil society organizations.”
Clinton began her 11-day trip to Africa in Senegal on Tuesday. She traveled to Uganda from South Sudan and will visit Kenya, Malawi and South Africa before returning to the U.S. on Aug. 10.