Defender of the month: Mohamed Farah

Mohamed Farah, 34, is a Somali human rights defender (HRD). He is the founder and chairperson of the Somali Disability Empowerment Network (SODEN). In addition to his work with the Somali Coalition of Human Rights Defenders as a steering committee member and Disabled Peoples’ International, Farah advocates for people with disabilities who face serious discrimination.

“Persons with disabilities in Somalia, as in many other countries in the sub-region, face numerous challenges that result in their exclusion from mainstream of society, making it difficult for them to access their fundamental social, political, and economic rights,” he says. “Many make their way through life impoverished, abandoned, uneducated, malnourished, discriminated against, neglected, and vulnerable.”

At the age of three, Farah contracted polio, which left him permanently disabled. Somalia’s disabled population is estimated at 15 percent, due in large part to disease, malnourishment, and the effects of decades of civil war and conflict. In 2011 Farah founded SODEN with the aim of promoting and uplifting the rights of disabled people in Somalia. Since then, he has met with both the Somali Speaker of Parliament and the former President to discuss national disability legal frameworks and the protection of those with special needs in the country. A 2015 campaign he initiated called ‘Open the Door’ aimed at making all public buildings in the country wheelchair accessible.

“In most of Somalia and the sub-region, disabled people face huge discrimination against their fundamental rights,” Farah say. “The government must ensure the rights of marginalized people, including persons with disabilities, in order to break all barriers against them and allow them to become a part of the society.”

Farah says the issues plaguing the disabled are most pronounced when it comes to economic, physical, educational, and psychological challenges, which can result in a vicious cycle of poverty and lack of access to the overall benefits of development. He says that in addition to the social and cultural stigma surrounding disability in Somalia, he has also faced threats of violence from non-state actors like Al-Shabaab – in 2017, the group was responsible for the death of Ali Osman, a disabled elder and community leader.

“In Africa, disability is sometimes viewed as a spiritual curse, despite medial explanations,” Farah says. “Disabled persons suffer from psychological challenges due to the way society views them. Disabled people are even stigmatised when it comes to marriage.  Superstitious beliefs frown at marriages between an able-bodied and a disabled person. It is regarded as a bad omen by the family.”

In June 2018, with support from DefendDefenders and ProtectDefenders.eu, Farah graduated from Kampala International University with a Master of Arts in Human Rights and Development, as well as a newfound commitment to continue the struggle for equal rights in both Somalia and beyond.

“My new studies will give me courage and spirit,” he says. “I will redouble my advocacy efforts and continue fighting against human rights violators. I will promote the rights of neglected people including people with disabilities.”

Follow Mohammed on Twitter.

See more HRDs of the Month

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Onyango Owor

In March 2020, Uganda’s Constitutional Court nullified the Public Order Management Act, 2013, a law that made arbitrary restrictions on freedom of assembly possible. One of the people behind the successful petition of POMA is Onyango Owor, a Ugandan lawyer with 15 years of experience in representing human rights defenders.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Kadar Abdi Ibrahim

Kadar Abdi Ibrahim is an outspoken human rights activist and journalist from Djibouti – a country where journalists are frequently harassed, subjected to government-orchestrated intimidation and reprisals, and prevented from pursuing their work independently. Yet, Kadar continues to use his voice and pen as tools to promote justice.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Aluel Atem

Aluel Atem is an ambitious woman activist from South Sudan who plays a vital role in the promotion of women’s rights in the country. However, life as an outspoken feminist in a patriarchal country is not a walk in the park. “It’s not only about being a female, but a young female. You get undermined for being a woman in all-man spaces, and for being young in older spaces,” Aluel explains.

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.”

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