ACHPR66: Updates from the East and Horn of Africa (October 2019-April 2020)

In its bi-annual report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), DefendDefenders highlights the most pressing human rights issues in the East and Horn of Africa sub-region for the period October 2019-April 2020, focusing on issues pertaining to civic space.

Although the Commission’s 66th Ordinary Session (ACHPR66) has been postponed due to the COVID-19 situation – a decision Defend­Defenders supports in light of the current grave public health concerns – De­fend­Defen­ders hopes that the session will take place as soon as the situation allows and provides analysis of trends and developments in the sub-region.

Over the past six months, governments have continued to restrict legitimate expressions of civilian dissent, including peaceful demonstrations and gatherings, free expres­sion of human rights defenders (HRDs), media professionals, and citizens, as well as targeted civil society organisations (CSOs) through various strategies of harassment and repression. Positive trends and developments have been noted in Ethiopia and Sudan.

The COVID-19 pandemic, a global public health threat, justifies temporary restrictions to cer­tain rights, including to freedom of movement and freedom of peaceful assembly. However, all restrictions must be lawful in light of a specific, legitimate aim (protecting public health), non-discriminatory, neces­sary, and pro­por­tio­nate. DefendDefenders expresses concern over the fact that in se­veral countries of the sub-re­gion, authorities have committed violations while fighting the pandemic or used the latter as an excuse to violate rights.

During the reporting period, DefendDefenders monitored the situation in Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia/Somaliland, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. We conducted our first-ever official mission to Sudan and published original research on the situation of HRDs and civil society in Ethiopia and Somalia/Somaliland and South Sudan (a larger report is upcoming).

We also hosted 70 Ethiopian HRDs for our flagship event, “Claiming Spaces: Tactical Tools for Human Rights Defenders,” during which the Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Coalition was launched.

This submission was prepared with the assistance of reports and information sent to DefendDefenders, the secretariat of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (EHAHRD-Net), by our members and partners throughout the sub-region.

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Human Rights Defender of the Month: Anny Kapenga

As a young student, Anny Kapenga used to cringe at the cult-like worship of Mobutu Sese Seko, the then Zaire’s President. By then, in the early 1990s, Zaire was still under one party rule, and calls were increasing for Mobutu to open political space to allow other parties to operate. In the meantime, however, all Zairians were expected to show affection for Mobutu wherever they gathered in public.

Students across Zaire’s schools were required to sing and dance adoringly before his (Mobutu)’s portrait every morning before they went to class, and all school scholastic materials were emblemed with his portrait. A young Anny never really appreciated the obsession:


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