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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.
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“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.
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“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.
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See more HRDs of the Month

Human Rights Defender of the month: Aida Musa

In August 2011, Aida crossed into Uganda, pregnant, and barely able to communicate in another language other than Arabic. The transition was a difficult one, she says: “It was my first-time outside Sudan, and yet I did not know any other language. The first months were very difficult.”
In 2012, still struggling to find her footing in Kampala, Aida was introduced to DefendDefenders, where she was introduced to the organisation’s resource center, and assured, it (the center) would be at her disposal whenever she needed to use it.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Pamela Angwench Judith

For most of her life, Pamela Angwech’s existence has always been a defiant and simultaneous act of survival and resistance. In 1976 when she was born, the anti-Amin movement was gathering pace, and her family was one of the earliest victims of the then dictatorship’s reprisals in Northern Uganda. Her father, a passionate educationist in Kitgum district was one of the most vocal critics of the dictatorship’s human rights excesses, which made him an obvious target of the state’s marauding vigilantes.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Joseph Oleshangay

As a human rights lawyer and advocate with the High Court of the United Republic of Tanzania, Joseph Moses Oleshangay spends most of his time crossing from one court to another, litigating human rights cases, some with life-altering implications for ordinary people. It is a monumental responsibility, one he never envisaged growing up.

As a young boy born into a Maasai household in northern Tanzania, his entire childhood revolved around cattle: “Our entire livelihood revolved around cattle. As a child, the main preoccupation was to tend to cows, and my formative years were spent grazing cattle around Endulen. It a simple lifestyle,” he says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Julia Onyoti

The situation of South Sudan’s women and girls remains one of those enduring blights on the country’s conscience. The country retains the unenviable reputation of having the world’s highest maternal mortality rate, and at 51.5%, one of the highest cases of child marriages. It is even worse with gender-based violence(GBV): A 2019 study by UNICEF found that one in every two South Sudan women have experienced intimate partner violence, while a recent UN study, alarmed at the widespread nature of conflict-related sexual violence in the country, in which women are tread as “spoils of war” described it as “a hellish existence for women and girls.

Human Rights Defender of the month:SHIMA BHARE

Shima Bhare Abdalla has never known the luxury and comfort of a stable and safe existence inside her country’s borders. When she was 11, her village was attacked and razed to the ground, sending her family and entire neighborhood scattering into an internally displaced People’s Camp, at the start of the Darfur civil war.

That was in 2002. Shima and her family relocated into Kalma refugee camp in Southern Darfur, where, alongside over 100,000 other displaced persons, they had to forge out a living, under the watch and benevolence of the United Nations – African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur, known as UNAMID. It is here that Shima’s human rights consciousness came to life. She enthusiastically embraced whatever little education she could access under the auspices of the humanitarian agencies operating in the camp, to be able to tell the story of her people’s plight.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Martial Pa’nucci

Martial Pa’nucci is a child of what is fondly known as Africa’s second liberation. In 1990 when he was born, the Republic of Congo, like many other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, was undergoing a transition from one-party rule to multi-party democracy, following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Yet developments in ordinary people’s lives were not as optimistic. Pa’nucci was born in one of Brazzaville’s ghettos to a polygamous family of two mothers and 19 siblings, where survival was a daily exercise in courage. When he was two, his father died, followed in quick succession by many of his siblings. Pa’nucci did not start school until he was nine, and he had to do odd jobs – from barbering to plumbing to earn his stay there, lest he dropped out like many of his peers.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Veronica Almedom

Veronica Almedom is a poster child of successful immigration. A duo Eritrean and Swiss citizen, she was born in Italy, and grew up in Switzerland where she permanently resides. Her parents are some of the earliest victims of Eritrea’s cycles of violence. When Eritrea’s war of independence peaked in the early 1980s, they escaped the country as unaccompanied minors, wandering through Sudan, Saudi Arabia, before making the hazard journey across the Mediterranean into Europe. There, they crossed first to Italy, and finally, to Switzerland, where they settled first as refugees, and later, as permanent residents.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Omar Faruk Osman

Omar Faruk’s career, and the passion that drove it, were the product of his circumstances. He was born in 1976, in the first of strong man Mohamed Siad Barre’s two-decade rule over Somalia, which was characterized by gross rights abuses and barely existent civic space. He came of age in the 90s when those abuses and rights violations were peaking, as his country was engulfed by a ruinous civil war following the collapse of the Siad Barre dictatorship.

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