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Frank Mugisha. Image courtesy rafto.no.
The Rafto Foundation, a Norwegian human rights organization dedicated to the promotion of intellectual, political, and economic freedom, announced on September 29, 2011 that the 2011 Rafto Prize will be awarded to Sexual Minorities Uganda and its executive director Frank Mugisha.
The Rafto Prize is awarded annually to individuals or organizations active in the non-violent struggle for the ideals and principles underlying the Human Rights Charter.
The foundation awarded the prize to Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) in recognition of its work to make fundamental human rights apply to everyone, and to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
SMUG is a coalition of organizations that work for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in Uganda. Since its inception in 2004, SMUG has become a powerful voice for a stigmatized and persecuted minority. The coalition has played an important role in opposing the proposed "Kill the Gays Bill" and has attempted to use the Ugandan legal system to fight harassment and violence from government and private abusers.
Like many glbtq Ugandans, Frank Mugisha lives in fear. As he has remarked, "I don't know what could happen to me at any minute. I do not know who wants to hang me, I do not know who wants to attack me."
Mugisha's fear is well founded. David Kato, who was the most outspoken gay rights advocate in Uganda, was beaten to death on January 26, 2011 in his home on the outskirts of Kampala.
Police officials attributed the murder to robbery, but members of the besieged Ugandan glbtq community believe it was a direct result of the homophobic atmosphere promoted by American Evangelical Christians in 2009 and that led to the so-called "kill the gays" bill that awaits action in the nation's legislature. "David's death is a result of the hatred planted in Uganda by U.S. Evangelicals," said Val Kalende, the chairperson of one of Uganda's gay rights groups. "The Ugandan Government and the so-called U.S. Evangelicals must take responsibility for David's blood."
In announcing the award of the 2011 Rafto Prize to SMUG and Frank Mugisha, the Rafto Foundation issued a statement saying that it "wishes to underscore that human rights encompass everyone and that it is unacceptable to persecute or discriminate against anyone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity."
In addition, the Foundation "wishes to turn the spotlight on the serious human rights situation in Uganda. It wishes to highlight the fact that SMUG and Frank Mugisha's fight for the human dignity of a particularly vulnerable group is also part of a greater fight for democracy and social justice. By awarding the 2011 Rafto Prize, the Rafto Foundation recognizes Frank Mugisha and his colleagues for their work on human rights and hopes the award will help afford them greater protection and inspiration to continue working in what is a vulnerable and difficult situation."