Ugandan William Amanzuru, the founder of Friends of Zoka, an organisation campaigning for an end to illegal logging in Zoka Forest, has won the EU Human Rights Defenders’ Award 2019.
An environmental rights defender from Adjumani district in northwestern Uganda, Amanzuru was feted at an awards ceremony held on May 6 at the residence of the Norwegian ambassador in Kampala.
The award is given annually by the European Union and Norway to recognise an outstanding contribution by human rights defenders and their organisations in Uganda.
Amanzuru was recognised for his courage in speaking out against the destruction of the Zoka Forest, the only natural rainforest in Adjumani district. Zoka Forest has been targeted by illegal loggers, whose activities have affected the biodiversity and the increased incidents of landslides, making it hard for the local farming communities to make a living from the land.
As a result of his work in exposing the powerful individuals behind the forest’s destruction, Amanzuru and his family have been targeted through threats and intimidation.
Since learning more about the reality and effects of climate change, he has made it his mission to fight against illegal logging in Zoka Forest, in the process exposing the connections between illegal activities and corruption that feed into the illicit global lumber trade.
Through Friends of Zoka, he has also been involved in reforestation efforts and contributing to documentaries and other efforts to expose the illegal practices damaging his local community.
“We are proud to recognise William’s achievements, courage and passion for human rights through this award,” said Norwegian ambassador Susan Eckey, the host of this year's award. “We hope that this award increases awareness of the importance of protecting natural habitats for future generations and also the need to ensure human rights defenders like William are protected.”
In acceptance speech, Amanzuru said: “It gives me strength, and it adds to the momentum and passion that I have. I know the earth, despite all the degradation we are putting it through, can still regenerate. But we must interest ourselves with what will happen to us who call it home if we don’t act now.”