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
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.
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.
- 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]
- DefendDefenders article, ‘For each disappeared, more activists stand up! Stop enforced disappearances against human rights defenders’, August 2019.
- Human Rights Watch report, ‘‘They Are Making Us into Slaves, Not Educating Us’: How Indefinite Conscription Restricts Young People’s Rights, Access to Education in Eritrea’, August 2019.
- Nairobi Wire,‘Q&A With Activist Okiya Omtatah’, September 2019.
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:
- CSOs called on the UN HRC to extend the current mandate of the Burundi Commission of Inquiry until September 2020.
- Victims of an armed attack on a refugee camp, which killed more than 150 Congolese civilians and wounded another 106, and their families are still waiting for justice and compensation 15 years later. Human rights organisations call for justice.
- As Burundi prepares for their 2020 presidential election, observers are concerned that the violent events of the 2015 presidential election will reoccur.
- A video clip of a brutal police assault on a man in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, has gone viral and drawn widespread condemnation and a call for authorities to deliver justice for the victim.
- Despite the peace deal with Ethiopia in July 2018, which inspired hope for reform, President Isaias Afwerki’s regime has not enacted meaningful changes in the system, a Human Rights Watch report announced.
- Recently, anti-government protests have surged in Eritrea, speared by the youth human rights group #yiakl (enough). The group has protested outside diplomatic missions, as well as UN offices, calling for investigation and accountability of the human rights abuses in the country. Additionally, the use of graffiti as a tool to call for justice has emerged around the capital.
- The Kenyan activist Esther Mwikali, who championed land rights in Muthini village, was found dead two days after she disappeared. Human rights groups demand investigation and accountability for the murder of the prominent activist.
- Kenya has been given the African Union’s (AU) endorsement for a UN Security Council (UNSC) seat after they defeated Djibouti with 37 votes to 13 during a vote at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
- Kenya’s police force is being accused of carrying out extrajudicial killings of around two dozen young men and boys in the low-income areas of Nairobi over the past year.
- Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) aimed at enhancing cooperation between their countries after months of tension.
- Human rights organisations call for investigation of the disappearance of Rwandan journalist Constantin Tuyishimire, who was reported missing on 16 July 2019.
- Enforced disappearances of anti-government actors continue in Rwanda, without any investigation and accountability.
Somalia, including Somaliland:
- On 14 August, Al-Shabaab attacked an army base in southern Somalia, killing seven and injuring 13 individuals. Gacal Abdulle Gacal, a 23-year-old radio journalist, was killed in the attacks. Gacal is the third journalist to be killed in the country this year.
- Four journalists from Eryal TV were arrested in Somaliland. The four journalists were conducting interviews at Hargeisa University where students were voicing their concerns about government corruption.
- Members of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan carried out their seventh field mission to South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia from 19 to 29 August 2019.The UN expert group said that it is “deeply concerned” that although the overall armed conflict has waned, there has been little progress in adhering to the peace agreement.
- As a part of the reshuffling of President Salva Kiir’s cabinet, Awut Deng Achuil will serve as South Sudan’s first female foreign minister.
- Sudanese activists say tribal clashes killed 37 in port city. On August 26, the Sudan Doctors Committee reported that at least 17 people of the 37 were killed, and more than 200 were wounded, including children.
- The new leaders in the transitional government in Sudan, charged with setting clear benchmarks for progress on justice and a range of reforms during the three-year transition period, were sworn in on 21 August 2019.
- On 17 August, Sudan’s deposed longtime president Omar al-Bashir appeared in court for the second hearing of his corruption trial, during which his defence asked for his release on bail. al-Bashir has been detained since he was forced out of power in April 2019, when security forces withdrew their support for his regime after months of popular protests.
- On 29 July, investigative reporter Erick Kabendera was forcefully removed from his home and arrested. On 30 August, a Dar es Salaam magistrate declined a request to take the journalist to a local hospital, despite being in need of medical attention. Kabendera remains in custody after he was charged with taking part in organised crime among other crimes. Many actors and human rights groups condemned the arrest of Kabendera, and the overall deteriorating human rights situation in the country.
- On 22 August, Tanzanian journalist Joseph Gandye was arrested. Gandye, who works for Watetezi TV, a station established by the Tanzanian Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC), was accused of publishing fake news about alleged police abuse. Human rights groups demand his release.
- On 17 August, 40 African civil society campaigners attending the 15-nation conference in Tanzania were questioned and warned, which is, according to human rights activists, part of the bigger clampdown on human rights in the country.