Defender of the month: Eulalie Nibizi

Eulalie Nibizi is a Burundian human rights defender (HRD) living in exile in Uganda, and since 2017 has been the Coordinator of the Coalition Burundaise des Défenseurs des Droits de l’Homme (CBDDH). The CBDDH was founded in 2009 to promote civic and democratic space in Burundi, and foster cooperation among HRDs. Given the increasingly precarious working environment for HRDs in Burundi, the CBBDH is currently based in Kampala, operating in collaboration with DefendDefenders.

In Burundi, Nibizi was engaged in several issues of justice and good governance. In her former role as President of the Syndicat des Travailleurs de l’Enseignement du Burundi (STEB) and Vice-President of the Confédération des Syndicats du Burundi (COSYBU), she focused on the promotion of workers’ rights. When Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run for a third term in 2015, Nibizi united her voice with those of other HRDs to denounce the move as unconstitutional.

“Respect for the Arusha Agreement and the Constitution is the foundation of all the rights of Burundian citizens. When the two texts that are the cornerstone of Burundi’s democracy were threatened, we held meetings, we wrote memorandums, and we mobilised the population,” says Nibizi.

Like many other HRDs, Nibizi’s activism and promotion of democratic principles forced her into exile as the government cracked down on all independent voices. “I left Burundi with no preparation at all,” she explains. “In June 2015, I went to Denmark for a meeting, and I was informed not to go back to Burundi because the government was calling me a ‘putschist’ and an ‘insurgent.’ My name was on a list of people to be stopped and my photo had been circulated among the border police.”

Nibizi has not returned to Burundi since. As an HRD in exile for more than three years, she has experienced many of the challenges outlined in a joint report published in September 2018 by DefendDefenders and the CBDDH on the situation of Burundian HRDs in exile in Rwanda and Uganda. Launched at the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC) during a side event that saw Nibizi as a panellist, the report shows the socio-economic, professional, security and psychosocial challenges faced by exiled Burundian HRDs, while also highlighting their resilience in monitoring violations in Burundi and advocating for human rights. On the same occasion, DefendDefenders launched another report detailing Burundi’s appalling behaviour as a member of UN HRC.

Like most HRDs in exile, Nibizi dreams of going back to Burundi in order for her work to have a bigger impact, but does not know how long this may take. In the meantime, she continues to work tirelessly to create an enabling environment for Burundian HRDs and to encourage collaboration. “The members of our coalition are scattered all over the world,” she says. “It is crucial to support and connect them, so that, together, we can build a better future for our country, based on foundations of peace and human rights.”

Nibizi recognises that this is no easy task, but her motivation and courage are unyielding. “There is a saying in Kirundi that gives me the energy to continue to stand for human rights: ‘You can fear a tiger, but you can never fear the tiger that has already entered your house,’” says Nibizi. “Human rights violations in Burundi are like a wild animal that is attacking the whole country, entering each house at a time. As this is the reality, I have no choice but to put my fear aside and to fight so that abuses can come to an end. Through the CBDDH, I feel empowered in this task, because I am at the service of all Burundian HRDs.”

See more HRDs of the Month

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Faiza Abdi Mohamed

The Somali activist Faiza Abdi Mohamed has promoted human rights in her home country for a decade, which has made her a target of verbal abuse, threats, and arbitrary arrest, forcing her to flee Somalia and seek exile in Uganda. Yet, she remains extremely vocal about human rights violations in her country. “I’ve lost so many of my friends due to cruelties, so I can’t keep quiet,” she says.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Omot Agwa Okwoy

In Ethiopia, land grabbing and villagisation has resulted in severe human rights abuses, however, being vocal about these abuses can be extremely risky. Omot Agwa Okwoy, our human rights defender of the month for December 2019, has fought for land rights and the rights of indigenous people in the Gambella region in Ethiopia for almost 20 years – leaving him with visible and invisible scars.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Brenda Kugonza

Brenda Kugonza has fought for women’s rights in Uganda for more than 13 years, and is currently the Executive Director of Women Human Rights Defenders Network-Uganda (WHRDN-U). “As a defender, you lose friends and family members – they don’t want to be associated with someone who brings them shame. We are viewed as women with bad manners and I struggle daily with discrimination,” she affirms.

Human Rights Defender of the Month:  Gladness Hemedi Munuo 

Gladness Hemedi Munuo is a journalist and an award-winning gender activist from Tanzania, with more than 20 years of human rights and media experience. “Shrinking space and crackdown on media causes huge problems in Tanzania – to me it’s a thing that needs serious and immediate action,” she stresses.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Moses Kabaseke

Moses Kabaseke, a talented hip-hop artist and activist from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), was forced to flee to Uganda in 2013 – at only 16 years old. Kabaseke, known by his stage name Belidor, has produced music since he was a child. “I use music as a weapon – music has power. I use music to promote human rights.”

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.

Human Rights Defender of the Month (July 2019): Gladys Mmari

Gladys Mmari is a driven Tanzanian human rights defender (HRD), and the founder of MAFGE (Male Advocacy For Gender Equality) – a non-governmental organisation (NGO) focused on women empowerment through educating both women and men. “So much of the work that I do is cultural conversation. We have grown up talking about these issues among women, but now, I have to work with men as well – making it more challenging,” Mmari stresses.

Human Rights Defender of the Month (June 2019): Beatrice Githinji

Beatrice Githinji is a Kenyan human rights defender (HRD) and peace ambassador, advocating for land rights. Her dedication to land rights is based on the historical injustices faced by many local communities, where land grabbing is a major, long-standing concern. “Many HRDs are losing their lives over land rights issues,” Githinji stresses.

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