The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project is proud to have completed its one week event, “Claiming Spaces: Tactical Tools for Human Rights Defenders” this Friday 12 December 2014 in Bujumbura, Burundi. The event, which saw human rights defenders from across the country meet in Bujumbura, is the fourth EHAHRDP organises to annually celebrate the International Human Rights Day. It has previously been held in Uganda, Tanzania and South Sudan.
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.
EHAHRDP Executive Director Hassan Shire welcomed 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.”
The four days that followed consisted of professionalising and practice-improving trainings in security management, stress management, digital security and social media, AU and UN mechanisms, resource mobilisation, and methods for investigating, documenting, monitoring, and reporting human rights violations. Human rights defenders from around the country spent time learning from these sessions, but also exchanging on their own experiences as human rights defenders in Burundi, and creating a strong network. Many expressed great interest for a number of the topics that were broached, and EHAHRDP is pleased to continue its capacity building to support to Burundian HRDs in 2015.
A press conference organised on the International Human Rights Day, 10 December 2014, saw EAHRHDP’s Executive Director, Mr Hassan Shire, speak alongside Benjamin Moreau from the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, and Frère Emmanuel Ntakarutimana, president of the National Independent Commission for Human Rights. Mr Shire gave recommendations to the government and the national human rights institution on this symbolic day: “First, I wish to encourage the government to ratify the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Good Governance, an important tool to achieve accountability and transparency. Second, I would like to see Burundian NGOs and citizens obtain access to the African Court on Human and People’s Rights, to put an end to impunity. Finally, I recommend that the National Independent Commission for Human Rights set up a desk specifically dedicated to Human Rights Defenders, to remain in permanent dialogue with human rights defenders and monitor their situation.”
A delegation from EHAHRDP also took part in the Manirumva award ceremony, organised by OLUCOME. Ernest Manirumva, a well-known human rights defender, was vice-president of OLUCOME when he was brutally murdered in 2009. This fourth edition of the Manirumva prize celebrated the bravery of those who stood up for fellow Burundians of different ethnic origins during the violent civil war that raged in Burundi between 1993 and 2005.
On 12 December 2014, “Claiming Spaces” was officially closed by His Excellency Abshir Hassan Abshir, Ambassador of Somalia to Burundi, and attended by His Excellency Jolke Oppewal, Ambassador of the Netherlands to Burundi. During his speech, H.E. Jokle Oppewal congratulated Burundian HRDs for their work and reiterated his country’s support for them: “The Netherlands reaffirm, through the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, its commitment to supporting Burundian HRDs, including those working on LGBTI issues.” Vital Nshimirimana, President of the Forum for the Strengthening of Civil Society (FORSC), thanked EHAHRDP for organising the event, and spoke of the importance of unity within the HRD community: “We are all, without exceptions, leaving this room as human rights defenders.”
“To deny anyone their human rights is to challenge their humanity”, said H.E Abshir Hassan Abshir, quoting Nelson Mandela. As a long-standing member of EHAHRDP, an HRD who received training from EHAHRDP, he applauded Burundi for this successful event, and spoke about the situation of HRDs in Somalia. H.E Ambassador Abshir also said: “Your work as human rights defenders is very much needed. On behalf the HRD community, I thank you for your hard work and your contributions. Be fair, honest and kind”.