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Clare Byarugaba, an award-winning Ugandan human rights defender who works for gay and lesbian rights in a country that recently criminalized homosexuality and the “aiding and abetting of homosexuality,” has been named the 2014 Oak human rights fellow at Colby College. Byarugaba is co-coordinator of the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, which was founded in 2009 to fight homophobia in Uganda and act on behalf of the LGBTI community.
Byarugaba helped organize Uganda’s first gay pride event, lobbied against the country’s anti-homosexuality bill, and now pushes for its repeal despite the threats that work imposes.
“When I called to tell her that she had been chosen as our 2014 Oak human rights fellow, Clare started sobbing and whispered into the phone, ‘You just saved my life,’” said Walter Hatch, director of the Oak Institute for the Study of International Human Rights at Colby and professor of government.
Byarugaba has received countless threats and has been forced to move several times. Recently a popular tabloid identified her as a “gay recruiter.” In 2011 another openly gay Ugandan human rights activist was murdered shortly after a tabloid listed his name with the words, “Hang Them.”
“Clare has survived a terrible ordeal. She has been rejected by her family, subjected routinely to threats of violence, and now criminalized as both a lesbian and as a human rights activist. We are glad that we can give her a safe space to think, write, rest, and recharge,” said Hatch. Byarugaba will be at Colby and will teach during the 2014 fall semester.
The Oak Institute for the Study of International Human Rights at Colby College was established in 1998 by a grant from the Oak Foundation. Each year, an Oak human rights fellow teaches at Colby and conducts research. The institute organizes lectures and other events centered around the fellow’s area of expertise. Oak human rights fellows have included activists from Myanmar, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Colombia, Kosovo, Sudan, and Cambodia, all of whom have risked their lives exposing and combating human-rights abuses in their countries.