Human Rights Defenders Combating Discrimination to Receive 2010 Honors

 Human Rights First will present its 2010 Human Rights Award to a renowned Hungarian advocate for the rights of the Roma people in Europe and a Ugandan activist on the front lines of defeating a draconian anti-homosexuality bill there. The group will honor this year’s recipients, Julius Kaggwa and Viktória Mohácsi, at its annual award dinner in New York City on Thursday, Oct. 21.

“Julius and Viktória are courageous leaders in the fight against discrimination and hate crimes in their own societies,” said Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino. “Human Rights First is pleased to honor these activists who—at great personal risk—stand up for the rights of those targeted for discrimination and abuse, Julius in Africa and Viktória in Europe. LGBTI persons and the Roma face prejudices that often are masked as socially acceptable in both parts of the world. In reality, such prejudices are at the root of widespread discrimination, marginalization, and outright violence. Despite death threats and ongoing danger to their own well-being, these two human rights advocates persevere in the struggle for equal opportunity and equal treatment for all. We draw strength from their resolve and their example. We are privileged to work with them and to honor their courage and achievements with this award.”

Mohácsi is the founder of Desegregation, a Hungary-based organization she established to monitor hate crimes committed against Roma. Since 2008, the Roma community in Hungary has been subjected to a series of violent acts motivated by hatred, ranging from severe beatings in broad daylight to murders by arson, shootings or the throwing of Molotov cocktail explosives. Mohácsi has been a leading advocate to raise awareness and improve government responses to these attacks and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

Earlier in her career, Mohácsi was an editor and news presenter for the Romani program on the Hungarian state television, Patrin. She was later elected a Hungarian Member of the European Parliament, one of only two Roma Euro-parliamentarians. During that period, from 2004-2009, Mohácsi raised awareness on the plight of Roma communities across Europe and the discrimination they faced. She led efforts to place the question of Roma rights on the agenda of the European Parliament and urged EU governments to take seriously their responsibilities to protect the rights of Roma people. She was an inspiring voice calling for the European Union to develop a coherent strategy on Roma integration across the continent.

Last year, as Hungary’s antisemitic, anti-Roma and xenophobic far-right Jobbik party gained momentum, Mohacsi lost her parliamentary seat. While she focuses her activism largely in Hungary, she remains a leader in the fight for Roma rights throughout Europe.

Born and raised in Uganda, Kaggwa has long advocated for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa. He is the Director of Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development (SIPD), a project working to promote human rights protection and holistic support for children and people with intersex conditions. He has also been a lead player of the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, a group that is at the forefront of domestic campaigning against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill recently tabled before the Ugandan parliament.

Homophobic legislation and violence against LGBTI individuals are on the rise in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa. Kaggwa’s work aims to fight this trend by promoting tolerance towards sexual minorities in Uganda and campaigning for the decriminalization of homosexuality. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill aims to criminalize all homosexual acts, making it – in some cases – punishable by death. The legislation would also stifle any activism in support of the LGBTI community. Though Kaggwa faces ongoing harassment and personal danger linked to his work against the bill, his fight to defeat it and to protect the human rights of all Ugandas, including LGBTI Ugandans, goes on.

Human Rights First has presented its annual human rights awards for more than 20 years. In tribute to this long tradition and the awards’ enduring legacy, this year’s program will feature special guest and 1998 Human Rights Award recipient, Gerda Weissman Klein. Weissman Klein is a Holocaust survivor whose foundation, the Gerda and Kurt Klein Foundation, promotes tolerance, respect, and empowerment of students through education and community service. She has written several books about her experiences, including the memoir All But my Life, which was the basis for the 1995 Academy Award-winning documentary short film, One Survivor Remembers.

In addition to Weissmann Klein, former recipients include Dr. Mudawi Ibrahim Adam from Darfur; Ludmilla Alexeeva from Russia; Helen Mack from Guatemala; Archbishop Pius Ncube from Zimbabwe; Saad Eddin Ibrahim from Egypt; Albie Sachs from South Africa; Hina Jalani from Pakistan; and Mary Robinson from Ireland.  This year’s Human Rights First awards ceremony will take place in New York City on Thursday, October 21.

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