Acceptance Speech by Robert Ssempala, Winner of the European Union Human Rights Defenders Award 2016
Your Excellencies the Ambassadors,
The European Union Delegation to Uganda,
Development Partners, Civil Society Representatives,
The Executive Board, Members and Fellow Staff of HRNJ-Uganda,
Esteemed Journalists, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen
As mentioned, my name is Robert Ssempala, the National Coordinator of Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda). I am very pleased to greet you all in your dignified capacities. I am very excited and exceedingly honored to be selected by the European Union as the Human Rights Defender of the year 2016; certainly no amount of words can best describe my joy today.
I consider this a great feat in the ceaseless fight for freedom of expression and the press in the country amidst tough challenges, and this award justifies the increasing need for an environment free from pre-meditated violations of media freedoms and journalists’ rights in Uganda and beyond.
The Award helps us to remind the government; especially the security agencies, of their duty and obligation to protect and defend people’s rights while ensuring law and order. It is therefore unacceptable that today police officers in Uganda have rather become the key violators of fundamental freedoms especially freedom of speech, expression, assembly, association and of late freedom of worship, among others.
The European Union Human Rights Defenders award is a very big achievement for me and the entire partners that I work with, including the team that I head at the secretariat, the HRNJ-Uganda Executive Board, the general membership of over 700 individual and press associations spread across the country, the regional monitors, among others who work selflessly to defend and promote the media and the general human rights in Uganda. The civil society and human rights organisations have immensely contributed to my success as a person and HRNJ-U as an organization because of their collaborative and networking interventions.
It is very rewarding for HRNJ-Uganda that since inauguration of the European Union Human Rights Defenders Award in 2012, HRNJ-U has been recognized prominently with my predecessor, Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala winning the Prestigious Award in 2012, and now myself. We feel much appreciated. With such recognition, we are energized to do more and serve our members and the entire media fraternity in Uganda! On a more successful note, I wish to inform you, distinguished members that this EU prestigious award is the second we are receiving this year. On April 11th 2016, HRNJ-U was awarded the ‘Commonwealth Press Union (CPU) Astor Award’ in London, by the CPU Chairman, Lord Black of Brentwood, and later handed over to HRNJ-Uganda in Kampala on the World Press Freedom Day 3rd May, 2016 by the Deputy British High Commissioner to Uganda, H.E Susan Schockledge.
This clearly indicates the positive impact of our struggle to defend and promote the respect of fundamental human rights in the country that we are not only recorgnised here at home, but also in the wider spheres as well. I am now as more charged, more committed and more focused to ensuring that HRNJ-Uganda continues to contribute to a secure working environment for the media, respect for human rights, rule of law and entrenchment of democratic governance in the country in days ahead.
The government is always implicated in employing a litany of tactics such as repressive and overbroad inhibitive and restrictive legislation, unwarranted bans of social platforms and closures of media houses, judicial harassment, and heavy-handed violence by State security forces to prevent the free flow of information which is necessary for Ugandans to make informed decisions about their collective political future. The crackdown on opposition political activities, media personnel and civil society organizations can never be justified.
On their part, the journalists continue to suffer from brutality, confiscation and most times deletion of journalistic material, denial of access to news scenes, targeted shootings, wide spread self-censorship, physical attacks from State and non-state actors, political interference, among others, but unfortunately there is evidently lack of political will to investigate and prosecute those implicated in meting violence against media practitioners; this has given rise to unabated impunity and denial of justice to the victim journalists.
In light of the above, we shall continue to fearlessly support journalists in detention, represent them in Courts of Law and monitor human rights situation, produce annual Press Freedom Index reports and build their capacities to ensure press freedom improves in the country.
The international community has a crucial role to play in encouraging the government to allow civil society, political leaders and advocacy groups to voice their opinions through the media unimpeded. It should also encourage the political leaders to respect the rights of their citizens, and also refrain from the use of force so that there is better enjoyment of the fundamental rights and freedoms in Uganda.
HRNJ-Uganda, our tradition will remain the indispensable and unflinching friend of press freedom against all odds. As we soldier on, we shall need all your support because the struggle has been tested by perpetrators of journalists’ media freedoms. Owing to the political developments in the country, we only believe that the worst is yet to come.
I conclude by saying that it is such a great honor to be recognized by the European Union Mission in Uganda as the Human Rights Defender of the year 2016.
Once again thank you very much for this prestigious Award!
“In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Martin Ruther King JR, while urging us to speak out