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Claiming Spaces for Human Rights Defenders in Burundi

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The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) is proud to launch the 4th annual edition of Claiming Spaces: Tactical tools for Human Rights Defenders in Bujumbura, Burundi taking place 8-12th December 2014. The event, comprising high-level discussions amongst human rights defenders followed by essential training clinics, is organized annually to celebrate International Human Rights Day and held in countries of East and Horn of Africa on a rotating basis.

The opening ceremony of Claiming Spaces was presided over by H.E. Patrick Spirlet, Chief of Delegation and Ambassador of the EU to Burundi; H.E. Jean Bosco Barege, Honourable Burundian Ambassador to Uganda; and Frère Emmanuel Ntakarutimana, President of the National Independent Commission for Human Rights.

“Burundi has one of the most vocal, resourceful, and committed communities of human rights defenders of the region,” said EHAHRDP Executive Director Hassan Shire in welcoming participants to the workshop. “I implore you to pick up the tools of these workshops to demand accountability from your governments in a professional and constructive manner, to expose threats against human rights defenders, and to utilise protective mechanisms to respond to those threats as they emerge,” Mr Shire continued.

During his opening remarks, H.E. Patrick Spirlet affirmed the support of the European Union to human rights defenders throughout the world, saying, “the action of the EU in favour of human rights defenders endeavours to be as inclusive as possible, pairing diplomatic action with concrete interventions.” H.E. Spirlet gave examples of such interventions carried out by EU Missions in accordance with the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, such as engaging diplomatically on behalf of human rights defenders, conducting prison visits and trial monitoring, as well as funding activities of human rights defenders, including 15 human rights grants in Burundi since 2007.

“Every human being aspires to justice, justness, and peace. Meeting this challenge requires the existence of a network of watchmen establishing an early alarm system and a mechanism for the defence and protection of human rights,” said Frère Emmanuel Ntakarutimana, Honourable President of the National Independent Commission for Human Rights (CNIDH). He furthermore emphasised the importance of creating a legal framework specific to HRDs, and of continuing to professionalise and better coordinate actions led by civil society in order to overcome the difficult past from which Burundi is emerging. Frère Ntakarutimana then declared the meeting officially open.

The audience additionally received an overview of the human rights situation in Burundi from Mr Vital Nshimirimana, President of the Forum for the Strengthening of Civil Society (FORSC) and the Chairperson of Burundian National Human Rights Defenders Coalition. The conference also heard powerful testimony from celebrated human rights defender Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa of the Association for the Protection of Human and Prisoners’ Rights (APRODH).

EHAHRDP acknowledges the generous support of the Swedish international Development Agency (SIDA) and the EU through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) that has made this meeting possible. The remainder of the week will comprise four days of trainings designed to empower and capacitate Burundian human rights defenders in topics of regional and international human rights mechanisms, organisational and personal security management, social media and digital security, stress reducing strategies, fundraising, and investigating, monitoring and documenting human rights violations.

Press Contacts
Hassan Shire: [email protected] or +256 772753753 (English)
John Foley: [email protected] or +44 7944252894 (English)
Clementine de Montjoye [email protected] or +257 79424889 (French/English)