Season’s greetings from the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP)!
2014 has been one of the busiest years in EHAHRDP’s history. Across the region, all of our departments have responded to an increasingly challenging environment for human rights defenders (HRDs). From South Sudan to Burundi to Ethiopia, the operating environment for human rights activism continues to shrink. It is in this context that EHAHRDP, and our many network members, have innovated and adapted to a new- and generally worsening- climate for HRDs.
The end of the year serves as an opportunity to share with you highlights of this year’s milestone achievements towards the promotion and protection of the rights of HRDs across the region. First, however, allow me to reflect on some of the wider human rights and political developments in the region.
As 2013 ended, South Sudan erupted into a brutal civil war that shows no concrete signs of abating one year later. As EHAHRDP has documented in its recent report, the conflict has been instrumentalised by the Government of South Sudan to target, harass, and restrict the operating environment for HRDs. In Ethiopia, the government has executed one of its most wide-reaching clampdowns on freedom of expression and civic space in years. In Burundi, the arrest and detention of leading HRD Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa galvanised widespread international alarm at the worsening environment for HRDs in the country. Earlier this month, In Sudan, National Intelligence agents arrested and detained the internationally renowned HRD Dr. Amin Medani from his home in Khartoum.
These are but snapshots of a much wider trend across the region of shrinking legislative space, matched by arbitrary- and frequently brutal- clampdowns on human rights defenders.
In this context, I share with you some of our key milestones from 2014.
Throughout this year, EHAHRDP has rapidly responded to the crisis in South Sudan in a multi-faceted and integrated way, involving all our departments. We have intervened to protect almost twenty South Sudanese HRDs at risk. We have supported South Sudanese activists to attend the UN Human Rights Council. Earlier this week in Nairobi, on 15th December, EHAHRDP launched a new research report on the grave situation facing HRDs in South Sudan.
More widely, our integrated Protection and Security Management team remains at the core of EHAHRDP’s operations. We provided direct assistance to over 100 HRDs in the sub region this year, providing bespoke interventions enabling them to continue their vital work. Of particular relevance, we intervened to provide emergency evacuation and medical assistance to Somali HRD Mohamed Dahir Moalin who was injured in a bomb blast in Mogadishu. In parallel, we consolidated and strengthened the department, ensuring closer integration of our protection and security management functions.
In Somalia, our dedicated country program went from strength to strength. EHAHRDP published a report on Human Rights Defenders: A Key to Fighting Sexual Violence in African Conflicts which I presented as an expert speaker at the Global Summit to end Sexual Violence in Conflict in London in June 2014. We facilitated the first security management training for our partner organisation, the Peace and Human Rights Network in Somalia, and assisted them in developing their own training curriculum. In September, we held a training on human rights advocacy, bringing together journalists from the National Union of Somali Journalists. In October, we organised a landmark in-country training on monitoring, documenting and reporting on human rights, with HRDs represented from Somaliland, Puntland and South Central. In parallel, EHAHRDP engaged on the human rights situation in Somalia at the 27th Session of the UN Human Rights Council.
Last week, EHAHRDP organised its annual flagship ‘Claiming Spaces’ workshop in Bujumbura, bringing together over 70 HRDs from across Burundi. We were fortunate to be supported throughout the last six months by Clementine de Montjoye, a Research Fellow from the Open Society Foundation, who has helped undertaken extensive field research on the situation facing HRDs across Burundi. This research will be published in early 2015.
Our capacity building team hosted numerous innovative and nuanced trainings for over 600 HRDs across the sub-region. These included new training workshops for HRDs working within the resource extraction sector in East Africa, and for the National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders in Uganda. Our Information Technology and Digital Security Team- now rightly recognised as being leading global experts in their field- held over twenty trainings across the region.
In May, EHAHRDP hosted a successful focal point meeting in Kampala, that brought together EHAHRDP’s focal persons in each of the 11 countries in the sub-region. This meeting served as a valuable opportunity to share experiences, and strategise on the way forward in protecting and promoting the rights of HRDs.
EHAHRDP continues to serve as the secretariat for the Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network (PAHRDN), which seeks to strengthen and consolidate protection networks for HRDs across the African continents. This year, PAHRDN established protection networks in each sub-region of the continent, and undertook a major joint advocacy mission to the United States, ahead of the August 2014 African Leaders Summit in Washington. I participated in the summit itself, and was able to see the influence that PAHRDN had on the substantive summit itself.
EHAHRDP in collaboration with the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, New York University School of Law implemented a one-year project on Human Rights Fact-Finding in East Africa: A Dialogue on Methodologies, Challenges, and Opportunities with HRDs in Uganda, Kenya and Burundi. The project has registered a number of successes and an end product in form of a publication will be released next year.
We have worked consistently to raise the profile of HRDs at the national, regional, and international level. We attended, and supported HRDs to engage at the 25th, 26th, and 27th Sessions of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, and to the African Commission on Human & Peoples’ Rights. We have intervened- both privately, and through numerous public statements, to address urgent issues and areas of concern for HRDs across the region.
We are energized by our successes in 2014. Next year will mark the tenth anniversary of EHAHRDP, and we will be marking this landmark anniversary with a series of events and initiatives throughout the course of the year. Much has changed in the sub-region over the last decade, and the need for a vibrant, protected, and well-resourced community of HRDs has never been greater.
On behalf of the entire EHAHRDP team, I would like to extend our sincere gratitude to all our partners who have supported us throughout the year.
For further developments from EHAHRDP and the sub-region, please visit our website at www.defenddefenders.org or follow us through social media outlets on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/humanrightsdefendersproject and Twitter @EHAHRDP
Our offices will close for the festive season on Friday 19th December 2014 and will re-open on Monday 5th January 2015, although the emergency protection line will remain manned throughout.
I wish you happy holidays and a prosperous new year!
Executive Director, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project
Chairperson, Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network