by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, founder and executive director of the LGBT rights organization Freedom and Roam Uganda, has been given the 2011 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.
The Geneva-based Martin Ennals Foundation announced the award, which comes with a grant of 20,000 Swiss francs ($23,240), on May 3.
Named after British human rights activist Martin Ennals (1927-1991), the award was created in 1993 and is given annually to someone who has demonstrated 'an exceptional record of combating human rights violations by courageous means and is in need of protection.'
Awards are made by an international jury of 10 human rights organizations: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, International Federation for Human Rights, World Organisation Against Torture, Front Line, International Commission of Jurists, Germany Diakonie, International Service for Human Rights, and HURIDOCS.
Jury chair Hans Thoolen said that Nabagesera was 'an exceptional woman of a rare courage, fighting under death threat for human dignity and the rights of homosexuals and marginalized people in Africa.'
He added that by recognizing Nabagesera as the laureate for 2011, the jury hoped to emphasize its strong opposition to discrimination against individuals based on gender or sexual orientation.
Nabagesera has appeared often on radio in Uganda to argue against homophobia and has frequently been physically attacked for her broadcasts, the jury citation said.
In 2007 she was harassed at the World Social Forum in Nairobi, and on many occasions afterward she has been heckled, threatened, and even attacked.
Since then she has had to move from house to house, afraid to stay long in the same place.
Her name appeared on a hit list of Gay Ugandans published by the Ugandan tabloid Rolling Stone in October 2010.
The following January, her friend and colleague David Kato, whose name also appeared on the list, was beaten to death in his home.
According to its website, Freedom and Roam Uganda 'was established in 2003 by a group of fully fledged Lesbians who were constantly harassed, insulted, and discriminated against by a misinformed society and who were touched by the plight of their sisters and brothers of the same sexual orientation.'
Its mission is to 'lobby and press for the recognition of same sex relationships, especially Lesbians in Uganda and thereby attain full equal rights and freedom in all aspects of life.'
Same-sex relations are illegal in Uganda and may carry penalties of up to 14 years in prison. The notorious 'kill the Gays' bill, which would allow Ugandan officials to execute 'serial offenders,' is still pending in Uganda's parliament.
U.N., U.S., and European officials have criticized Uganda, and other African countries for their laws against same-sex relations, which contravene the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Uganda has also been under fire from the UN for brutally crushing recent cost-of-living protests, resulting in the deaths of eight people, and for arresting and beating opposition leader Kizza Besigye.
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