Nicholas Opiyo is one of those individuals who will not back down from a fight. He doesn’t go out looking for trouble, but he will not take a side step if he sees it coming.
Opiyo’s preferred weapons are words and he has carved a legal career from wielding them fiercely to make a difference in the lives of the powerless and downtrodden. Last night at the Allianz Forum in Berlin, the work of this Ugandan human rights lawyer was honored with the prestigious German African Award.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier awarded the German Africa Prize to Opiyo saying, “You have become a key figure for your country’s democratic development and your courageous fight for equal rights has been giving hope to so many people in Uganda and beyond.”
In his welcome address, Coenraad Vrolijk, Regional CEO Africa at Allianz, also lauded Nicholas Opiyo’s exemplary courage, highlighting the lawyer’s outstanding commitment to the sustainable development of Uganda and to “creating a brighter future for the country’s young population.”
"I’m so honored and delighted to be the recipient of the 2017 award," Opiyo said about his vocation upon accepting the award. “If you believe in the rights of women, of children, of refugees – simply, if you believe in the corpus of human rights, you must then defend the rights of everybody.”
Opiyo’s most famous case was before the Ugandan Constitutional Court in 2014, when he played a key role in having the country’s draconian Anti-Homosexuality Act overturned. Those convicted under the act would have faced a lifetime in prison.
For his success, Opiyo was ousted as general secretary of the Uganda Law Society after the country's Christian Lawyers Fraternity campaigned against him because of his challenge to the anti-LGBT law. Opiyo’s Facebook page was also filled with abuse and he was insulted to his face on the streets.
Opiyo took it all with a shrug. "That is in no way near the pain that the members of the [LGBT] community suffered," Opiyo said at the time. "I am a public figure. I can withstand all of that."
Although his win gained him international attention, Opiyo was already a name in his country. The 37-year-old lawyer has made a career from handling some of Uganda’s most politically sensitive cases and in defending the powerless against the excesses of authority.