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: Ana Taban

Ana Taban, which means ‘I am Tired’ in Arabic, was established in 2016 in Nairobi, Kenya out of frustration of South Sudanese artists with several issues related to the civil war in the country. This was after another conflict broke out at the Presidential Palace in Juba a few months after the signing of a peace deal.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Jaqueline Mutere

Jaqueline Mutere’s motivation to establish Grace Agenda was a response to the post-election sexual violence of 2007 and 2008 in Kenya. Additionally, as a survivor of sexual violence which resulted into conception of a child, and following the experience of other survivors, Jaqueline identified the need to form an organisation that advocates for reparations for survivors of sexual violence.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Ocen Ivan Kenneth

Ocen Ivan Kenneth is a Program Director at Foundation for Development and Relief Africa (FIDRA), with more than 10 years’ experience working in the human rights field. Ivan’s ambitions for change focus on building inner peace, defending human rights and empowering local communities using theatre and storytelling. He creates a space where people from the community share their personal stories of trauma and resilience as well as identify mechanisms of healing.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Sandra Aceng

Sandra Aceng is an outspoken and energetic woman human rights defender (WHRD). She is a gender and ICT researcher and policy analyst for Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) where she coordinates the Women ICT Advocacy Group, advocating for internet access for all. In addition, she writes on various platforms such as Global Voices, Freedom House, and Impakter Magazine. Her regular contributions to Wikimedia Uganda often focus on profiling WHRDs, female politicians, and journalists.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Chantal Mutamuriza

Chantal Mutamuriza does not wait for problems to be solved. When the Burundian woman human rights defender (WHRD) encounters a problem, she will seek a solution there and then. When hundreds of thousands Burundians had to flee from political unrest in 2015, many of them were stranded in refugee camps with little economic opportunity or access to education. In her problem-solving spirit, Chantal felt compelled to act: she quit her job to put her skills and network to use and founded the NGO Light For All.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Foni Joyce

Foni Joyce has engaged in humanitarian work since the age of 20, when she joined a refugee student organisation to amplify the voices of refugees. Originally from South Sudan, Foni grew up as a refugee in Nairobi, Kenya, but she makes it clear that ‘refugee’ is merely a legal definition: “I firstly define myself as a human being who has been uprooted.”

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Meskerem  Geset Techane

Meskerem Geset Techane has fought injustice since she can remember: as a child she was known to stand up for herself and others, whether against bullies, teachers, her parents or church. Fighting injustice and promoting human rights is a common theme in the lawyer’s life. “It’s a passion, promoting human rights is not something you choose to do for a living or as a career opportunity. It’s more of a calling for me.”

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