Growing up in Gulu, northern Uganda, Nicholas Opiyo spent most of his childhood running away from the Lord Resistance Army, known for using child soldiers, labourers and sex slaves. His sister was not as lucky, she was abducted. She later was able to escape.
It is through this childhood experience that Opiyo’s passion for fighting for human rights grew.
He has now become a household name when it comes to human rights in Uganda. He has worked on some of the high profile cases including fighting against the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2013.
The Act included some severe punishment including life imprisonment for gay sex, including oral sex; for ‘aggravated homosexuality and for living as in same sex marriage. Anyone attempting to commit homosexuality and for promoting homosexuality will be jailed for seven years and between five and seven years respectively. Any business deemed to promote homosexuality will have their certificates of registration cancelled and directors jailed for seven years.
Opiyo argued against the Act, earning himself abuses, attacks and death threats from individuals supporting anti-homosexuality. His dedication to the fight saw the overturning of the law. However, there are renewed efforts to bring back the law, meaning the fight is still ongoing.
“Defending fundamental human rights for all without discrimination is not just a job but my life-commitment.”
In 2013, he created Chapter Four Uganda, a human rights organisation. Within the organisation, he challenges restrictions and limitations of freedom of assembly and expression and other human rights issues.
He has also defended a number of high profile activist including, Stella Nyanzi, who was accused of using electronic communication to insult President Yoweri Museveni.
Other issues he is dealing with include the Public Order Management Act and Anti-pornography Act.
His dedication to defending human right causes have earned him recognition all over the world. The Human Rights Watch honoured him for his fight for the rights of Ugandans including the LGBT community. He received the 2015 Recipient of the Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism.
In 2017, Opiyo was awarded the German Africa Award for “his exceptional effort and dedication for defending rule of law and political liberty in Uganda.” The award, given by the German Africa Foundation, honours outstanding personalities who have made an exceptional contribution to democracy, civil rights, rule of law and culture on the continent.
I will today receive the German Africa Prize 2017 from the German Federal President Frank Walter Steinmeier here in Berlin. There will be a special performance by Geoffrey Oryema. I thank the staff/Board of @chapter4uganda our partners, supporters & friends. I owe lots to you all pic.twitter.com/FOdKxgRT4g
— Nicholas Opiyo (@nickopiyo) November 23, 2017
“I’m very delighted to be the recipient of the award 2017. This award is very prestigious and I follow after extremely eminent Africans including the former South African public protector. It’s really humbling for me that this award was bestowed upon me,” Opiyo told DW.