Season’s greetings from The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (DefendDefenders)! In October 2015, we celebrated 10 years of protecting those that defend our rights and I want to sincerely thank all of our partners and network members for joining the struggle to create a conducive working environment for human rights defenders. As we embark on another decade we are re-branding and using DefendDefenders as our acronym to replace EHAHRDP.
As we wind up 2015 I take this opportunity to reflect on yet another challenging year for human rights defenders across the continent: with the civil war raging on in South Sudan since the outbreak of the conflict in 2013, the relentless terrorist attacks waged by Al Shabaab in Somalia and the post-election violence in Burundi, the space for civil society in the East and Horn of Africa is continuing to shrink. Despite all the hurdles human rights defenders (HRDs) have continued to work on the frontlines of the defense of human rights. I wish to take this opportunity to share with you highlights of our achievements throughout the year.
On 16th December, we successfully concluded our 3 day flagship annual “Claiming Spaces: Tactical Tools for Human Rights Defenders” workshop in Mogadishu, Somalia. The purpose of this event was to build the capacity of Somali human rights defenders and stand in solidarity with them as they operate in a very challenging environment. This was the fifth edition since its inception in Uganda in 2011.
Our Protection and Security Management department continues to respond swiftly to the increasing cases of human rights defenders (HRDs) at risk. Since elections in Burundi, out of the 230 cases received this year, 100 were from Burundi. This demonstrates the gravity of the situation of this country as over 220,000 Burundians since April 2015 fled their country. In addition, we reached out to about 75 organisations to assess their security and risk management needs and address them where possible.
During the course of this year a few countries in our sub region conducted general elections while others will hold theirs in 2016 and 2017, and in view of the increasing restriction of civil society space prior to, during and after elections, this became one of our priority areas. We published “Caught up in Bitter Contests”, a report detailing the challenges faced by HRDs prior to, during and after elections in Burundi, Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda. Our report provides recommendations to various stakeholders at a national, regional and international level, as well as important insights for elections to come.
We strengthened our presence at the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (African Commission) and United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), bringing light to the human rights violations taking place in the sub-region and the role that these mechanisms can play to address them. Most importantly, we supported HRDs to attend sessions at both mechanisms and inform the regional and international community of the challenges faced on the ground and the need for their support.
In June this year, the UN HRC passed its strongest resolution to date on the crisis in South Sudan, establishing a fact finding mission by the Office of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights to monitor, document and report on the human rights violations to the Council. The African Union Peace and Security Council also released the report of the Commission of Inquiry it mandated to investigate alleged violations in South Sudan, while providing concrete recommendations to achieving justice and accountability for Africa’s youngest nation. Our continued advocacy with our partners on South Sudan, bringing South Sudanese HRDs to address the international community, greatly contributed to these significant developments.
The Capacity Building Program, which is responsible for equipping HRDs with the necessary skills to facilitate their work, successfully organised over 15 workshops in the different countries in the sub region including the formation of the newest Coalition of HRDs in Somalia/Somaliland. Creating local capacities has been one of our objectives this year, therefore we have created a pool of trainers in physical and digital security on the continent with the aim to contribute to the safe working environment for HRDs. Some of our HRDs are now expert trainers in their own countries.
Our Information Communication and Technology (ICT) department has grown significantly in human resource, skill and strength. We conducted 34 training sessions in digital security, social media and panic button for human rights defenders in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia/Somaliland, South Sudan, Tanzania, Togo and Uganda. Taking into context the local reality we have initiated the production of a digital security and security management manual to enhance HRDs’ understanding of ICT tools and best practices.
Our Special Program on Somalia and South Sudan facilitated the establishment of the Somali National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders in August 2015 to encourage cooperation and networking among members as well as promote strategies and quick responses to situations in which HRDs are at risk. The coalition now has a functional secretariat with skilled staff that we mentored over three years. Earlier this year DefendDefenders facilitated the first visit to Somalia of the African Commission’s Special Mechanism; Madame Reine Alapini Gansou, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa. She chaired an interactive dialogue with HRDs across Somalia and met with various government officials including the President, H.E. Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud. Further, since June we have been conducting both field and desk research on the situation of human rights defenders in Somalia and Somaliland to be published next year.
DefendDefenders hosts the Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network (PAHRDN) which seeks to strengthen and consolidate protection networks for HRDs across the African continents. PAHRDN contributed technical support to the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa in finalising and disseminating the African Commission’s report on the state of Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly in Africa. PAHRDN will continue to support the African Commission including in implementing the resolution appointing the focal point on reprisals in Africa and the implementation of the Commission’s report on the Study on the Situation of Women Human Rights Defenders in Africa.
PAHRDN celebrated its second edition of the African HRDs Shield Award to mark the achievements and appreciate the impressive work of human rights defenders in Africa. I appreciate and recognise the hard work of the jury and their deserving selection of winners.
The African Union has declared 2016 as a year of Human Rights with a specific focus on Women. We look forward to another year dedicated to supporting HRDs, paying particular attention to the challenges of women human rights defenders.
On behalf of the entire DefendDefenders team, I would like to extend our sincere gratitude to all our partners who have supported us throughout the year. Special appreciation goes to those that contributed to our strategic plan for 2016-2020.
For further developments from DefendDefenders and the sub-region, please visit our website at www.defenddefenders.org or follow us through social media outlets on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/humanrightsdefendersproject and Twitter @EHAHRDP.
Our offices will close for the festive season on Friday 18th December 2015 and will re-open on Monday 4th January 2016, although the emergency protection line (+256-783027611) will remain manned throughout.
I wish you happy holidays and a prosperous new year!
Executive Director, DefendDefenders