Government hails new Rafto winner

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The Norwegian government congratulated the winner of this year’s Rafto Prize for Human Rights, the organization Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), for its “brave” work to fight for the rights of Ugandans regardless of sexual orientation or identity. The prize, announced Thursday, will be awarded to SMUG leader Frank Mugisha.

The executive director of SMUG, Frank Mugisha, will be awarded the Rafto Prize on behalf the organization he leads. PHOTO: Håvard Holme/Rafto Foundation

“We see this prize as an honor for all who dare to work against the discrimination and hate crimes that sexual minorities are often subjected to,” said Erik Solheim, Norway’s government minister in charge of the environment and foreign aid. “SMUG contributes towards breaking down myths and prejudice so that society will see that human rights apply to everyone.”

Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, in Iceland for political meetings and events honoring Norwegian explorer and human rights advocate Fridtjof Nansen, also congratulated SMUG after it won the “meaningful” prize. The organization has had support from Norway’s foreign ministry.

The Bergen-based Rafto Foundation said it chose SMUG for its annual Rafto Prize because of its work “to make fundamental human rights apply to everyone, and to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The foundation claimed that the “human rights situation in Uganda in general, and the plight of sexual minorities in particular, is getting worse. They are blamed for social problems and are ‘the good enemy’ that politicians can attack in order to garner support.”

Rafto officials called SMUG’s work “especially important” because “the battle they wage is for human rights’ most basic purpose: To protect individuals from abuses by the authorities and the majority.” The prize aimed to support SMUG’s efforts to halt the spread of what a former SMUG leader called “state-sponsored homophobia.”

The prize will be awarded at Bergen’s main theater Den Nationale Scene on Sunday November 6. It commemorates Thorolf Rafto, a professor of economic history at the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration in Bergen, who devoted his life to promoting democracy and respect for human rights, especially in Eastern Europe.

The prize has been awarded every year since 1987, with winners chosen by The Rafto Foundation. Many previous winners have gone on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, including Shirin Ebadi of Iran, Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma and Kim Dae-jung of South Korea.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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