The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (EHAHRD-Net) held its third General Assembly from 21 to 22 February 2017 at the Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort, Kampala, Uganda.
- The General Assembly (GA) brought together development partners, coalition representatives, country focal points and human rights defenders (HRDs) from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Somalia (including Somaliland), Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and in all, 140 participants attended.
- Mr. Hassan Shire, outgoing Chairperson of the Network, gave welcoming remarks and reflected on the history of EHAHRD-Net, which was launched in 2005, and acknowledged the founders who responded to the first call of action in Entebbe and have continued being part of EHAHRD-Net until today. Mr. Shire highlighted the role the Secretariat’s Protection department had played in assisting over 900 HRDs with protection grants since its creation, continuing to give special attention to pressing crises in Burundi and South Sudan today.
- The Chairperson DefendDefenders’ Board of Directors Dr. Livingstone Sewanyana gave his remarks on the state of the network and human rights challenges in the sub-region. Dr. Sewanyana congratulated the Board and members for the realisation of the EHAHRD-Net, and raised the issue of democratic backlash in the region.
- George Murara of the Kenya National Commission of Human Rights spoke about cooperation between national human rights institutions and human rights defenders. Mr. Murara called on participants to recognise new fields of HRDs, like doctors and lawyers, and reflected on the Kenyan doctors currently on strike. He called for re-thinking of our approach to the human rights movement and those who are not served by it, and called for increased use of NHRIs as a bridge between HRDs and governments.
- Sheila Muwanga, Vice President of FIDH and Deputy Director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, and Uganda Focal Point EHAHRD-Net gave the keynote address: “Strategic Thinking on the HRD Movement”. Ms. Muwanga gave an overview of the key challenges civil society faces across the continent, including elections, online surveillance and extractive industries, and called for a critical discussion about the strategies of the human rights movement, including “naming and shaming”.
- Dr. Uchenna Emelonye, Country Representative of OHCHR requested in his remarks that the assembly observe a minute of silence for fallen HRDs on the continent, encouraged the spirit of networking, and officially opened the General Assembly meeting.
- The Secretariat of EHAHRD-Net took the opportunity to officially launch its rebranding — changing its name from EHAHRDP to DefendDefenders and unveiled its new logo.
- Mr. Hassan Shire, the outgoing Chairperson of EHAHRD-Net presented his report on secretariat activities, key achievements, success stories, best practices and lessons learnt from the plan of action adopted for the period ranging from 2011 to 2016. He also shared changes at the Secretariat, including the relocation of the Protection Desk Uganda (partnership with PI) to Nairobi, the creation of internal capacity in the form of the Protection and Security Management department, the relocation of the Burundi Coalition for HRDs which is now hosted by the Secretariat because of the ongoing crisis in Burundi, and hosting a number of HRDs and Coalitions websites.
- Ms. Memory Bandera, Director of Programs and Administration of DefendDefenders, presented the revised EHAHRD-Net Plan of Action 2012-2016. She presented a clear organisational structure for EHAHRD-Net, the Secretariat (DefendDefenders), focal points, coalitions, and Pan-African HRD Network (PAHRDN).
- Ms. Bandera highlighted some achievements, challenges, and new developments at the Secretariat including:
a. Insufficient collaboration, lack of knowledge, resource constraints, connecting local and international efforts;
b. The expansion of the most-at risk human rights defenders working on issues such as business and human rights, monitoring elections, women human rights defenders, conflicts areas, sexual orientation and gender identity as well as journalists fighting to end impunity and corruption;
c. Capacity and expertise to support HRDs on digital and physical security skills, strategies for HRDs in exile and developed the hub cities initiative;
d. Established dialogue with different actors in our region, improved the flow of information between secretariat and members, for example through the creation of a monthly newsletter;
e. Peer learning and mentorship of staff of HRD Coalitions;
f. Advocacy and strategic litigation at the regional and sub-regional level.
- A working group on the Network’s thematic priority areas reviewed the action plan in accordance with new changes and challenges faced by HRDs in the sub-region. Proposed recommendations and amendments, including a particular focus on cross-border kidnappings of HRDs by security forces, were therefore integrated into the Plan of Action 2017-2021 and solemnly adopted.
- Counsel David Kaggwa, Secretary of DefendDefenders’ Board of Director presented to the GA amended MoU and Elections Regulations, and both were approved by the General Assembly.
- New applications to join the Network were presented by DefendDefenders’ Protection and Security Manager, Tabitha Netuwa and membership was granted to Africa Monitors (Eritrea) and Maison de Droit (Rwanda).
- A delegation from the Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network composed of Hassan Shire, Chair of PAHRDN, Arnold Tsunga, Chairperson of The Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network, Joseph Bikanda, Coordinator of PAHRDN, Dr. Frank Mugisha representing Pepe Onziema, Steering Committee Member, and Advocate David Kaggwa as legal representative conducted and observed the election process aiming at identifying the new Chairperson and focal points of the Network in a democratic, free and fair process.
- Three candidates were nominated and Counsel Vital Nshmirimana, Chairperson of the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Burundi and currently in exile, was elected with 46 votes against 22 votes for Onesmo Olengurumwa, Coordinator of the Tanzanian Human Rights Defenders Coalition, and 21 votes for DK Kamau Ngugi, and Coordinator of the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Kenya.
- A new Focal Point was elected for Ethiopia to be part of the advisory council alongside other Focal Points and the current national coalition coordinators from 8 countries.
- A discussion on Migration and Human Rights was led by Ambassador Mariam Yassin – Special Envoy of the Federal Republic of Somalia for Children and Migrant rights. Ms. Yassin highlighted the importance of civil society and spoke of migration as the overriding issue of our age. Countless lives are being lost in the Mediterranean, and Ms. Yassin called for a Pan-African approach to address this crisis in our continent.
- A presentation was made on European Union Human Rights Defenders support mechanisms by Tommaso Mignani, Grants Coordinator of Protect Defenders. He introduced the three key aspects the Secretariat focuses on: the security of the HRDs; the identity of the HRDs, and the work of the defenders, including finding host organisations for defenders in exile.
- DefendDefenders launched a new manual with practical tools on digital and physical security management for HRDs.
- Arnold Tsunga, Chairperson of the Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network and Executive Director of the International Commission of Jurists – Africa Regional Programme, officially closed the meeting on behalf of the Chairperson of Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network.