Updates from August 2019!

Dear friends and colleagues,

Last week, we commemorated the International Day of Victims of Disappearance, in solidarity with the many African human rights defenders (HRDs) that have disappeared, been tortured, and/or killed. It is an atrocious crime which demands our immediate attention.

FOCODE have reported 140 disappearances of HRDs and political opponents in Burundi over the past five years. In Sudan, during the recent revolution, reports show that hundreds of peaceful protestors have disappeared, allegedly at the hands of security forces. In November 2017, the Tanzanian journalist Azory Gwanda went missing, and no investigation and accountability has been ensured. Last week, Kenyan land rights activist Esther Mwikali was found dead two days after she disappeared. These grave human rights violations illustrate that enforced disappearance is a widespread tool used to silence HRDs and spread terror. DefendDefenders will continue to call for justice for HRD victims of enforced disappearance.

The number of journalists that have been arbitrarily arrested recently is another reason for concern. Last week, Joseph Gandye, the prominent Watetezi TV journalist, was taken from his home in Dar es Salaam and placed in police custody. On 29 July, Tanzanian journalist Eric Kabandera was arrested by the police. The arrests are a clear sign of Tanzania’s sustained attack on press freedom and free speech.

Sudanese women HRDs have been on the frontline in the Sudanese revolution, and their remarkable human rights work will not go unnoticed. In relation to this, we were pleased to recognise, through AfricanDefenders, the work of  the Sudan Women Protest and present them the African Shield Award. We are closely following developments in Sudan, and will continue to push for justice at the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council (HRC42) –  especially in light of the Council’s failure during HRC41 to address the human rights violations, including the 3 June 2019 massacre in Khartoum.

Yours sincerely,

Hassan Shire

Executive Director, DefendDefenders

Human Rights Defender of the Month (August 2019): Alaa Satir

As an inspiring activist, illustrator, and graphic designer, Alaa Satir uses her art as a tool to promote women’s rights and justice in Sudan. “The challenges that we,women, have faced in Sudanese society have been enormous – we have been the main casualties of Omar al-Bashir’s regime,” Satir says. “Art makes people question things. It allows them to practice their freedom of speech. This way, art can create change.” Read more.

Check out:

  • Call for participation: With the fundraising campaign #ClimbForJustice, the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Kenya (NCHRD-K) invites everyone to raise awareness of the situation of HRDs through hiking. For more information, see here.
  • Call for registration: The registration for the panel discussion at the NGO Forum on 17-19 October 2019, in relation to the 65th Ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission) in Banjul, The Gambia, is now open. Sign up here. Deadline: 15 September 2019.
  • Call for applications: International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) call for applications for a fellowship at their office in New York. For more information, contact Tess McEvoy at [email protected]

Recommended reading:

Updates from DefendDefenders:

  • DefendDefenders continues to prepare for HRC42, taking place on 9 – 27 September 2019. Ahead of the session, DefendDefenders joined international civil society organisations (CSOs) to call on States to support a resolution extending the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi for another year, until September 2020, and another letter urging the Council to address the serious human rights violations and abuses in Sudan and support systemic reforms in the country;
  • DefendDefenders carried out research on Somalia, including Somaliland, to examine the state of lawyers working as HRDs, as a baseline for our next report. The report is expected to be published at DefendDefenders’ annual flagship event, Claiming Spaces, in December 2019;
  • In relation to the International Day of Victims of Disappearance on 30 August, DefendDefenders and AfricanDefenders carried out the campaign #JusticeForActivists to raise awareness of enforced disappearances of HRDs, and call for investigation and accountability;
  • DefendDefenders received ten protection grant requests: three were approved, one is pending, five were rejected, and one was withdrawn;
  • DefendDefenders delivered a session on HRDs protection at a workshop organised by the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS), that took place  from 19 – 21 August in Kampala, Uganda. The workshop aimed to support Sudanese HRDs to develop advocacy strategies  to address issues of accountability, fighting corruption and impunity, and institutional reform during the transitional period;
  • On 20-21 August, DefendDefenders organised a planning meeting with partners in South Sudan, including the South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network (SSHRDN), Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP), and Anataban. The two-day meeting was a part of the preparation for the Resourcing Resilience Through Artistic Expression Clinics and Exhibition that will be taking place between October and December 2019;
  • In collaboration with SSHRDN and NP, DefendDefenders conducted a refresher training of trainers (TOT) for ten local trainers in South Sudan. Among other matters, the participants conducted individual training simulations in digital and physical security management;
  • DefendDefenders carried out a follow-up mission to South Sudan to assess the implementation of knowledge and skills acquired by the women HRDs who attended our Bread for the World training earlier this year, from 20 to 23 August; and 
  • DefendDefenders participated in the Citizen Lab Summer Institute in Toronto, Canada.

Updates from AfricanDefenders:

  • AfricanDefenders presented the North African and Pan-African Shield Awards to Hala Al Karib, Regional Director of the Strategic Initiative from Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA Network), who received the award on behalf of Sudan Women Protest; and
  • AfricanDefenders participated at a consultation in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on the establishment of an HRD coalition in Ethiopia, to share lessons learnt from the creation and functioning of other coalitions across Africa.

Updates from the East and Horn of Africa:






Somalia, including Somaliland:

South Sudan:




Human Rights Defender of the month: Alex Njenga John

Alex Njenga has always believed in egalitarianism both as a principle and as a tool for justice. As a result, he has always been suspicious of, and at times hostile to social prejudices that treat some people as “more equal than others,” – to use a line from George Orwell’s famed political fable, Animal Farm.

Some of the experiences that have shaped his social and political outlook have been personal. As an adolescent in Kenya’s Uasin Gishu County, Alex was stigmatised and denied healthcare after he identified himself as belonging to Kenya’s sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) community.