Season’s greetings from the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP)!
Throughout the year, EHAHRDP has reported on the harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders (HRDs) and journalists, and increasing attempts by state and non-state actors to undermine and disrupt the activities of civil society. We have also seen HRDs who continue to place themselves on the frontline of human rights protection, often at intolerable risks to their own safety. As we wind up 2013, EHAHRDP would like to share with you highlights of this year’s milestone achievements towards the promotion and protection of the rights of HRDs across the region.
Last weekend, EHAHRDP staff returned from Juba, South Sudan where we held the third edition of our flagship annual workshop “Claiming Spaces: Tactical Tools for Human Rights Defenders”, which took place in collaboration with our focal point Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation (CEPO) and the South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network from 9-13th December. During the workshop, EHAHRDP launched our most recent report, “Change will not come until we talk about reality: The Closing Space for Human Rights Defenders in South Sudan”.
Of significant relevance was the Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network’s first edition of the African Human Rights Defenders Awards ceremony which was held in Banjul, Gambia in October 2013. The awards were presented to five exceptional HRDs: Imam Baba Leigh (West Africa), Mr. Livingstone Ssewanyana (East Africa), Ms. Yara Sallam (North Africa), Ms. Paulette Oyane Ondo (Central Africa) and Ms. Maria Lucia Da Silveira (Southern Africa) – one from each sub-region of Africa – in recognition of their work towards the advancement of human rights in Africa. The award came with a cash prize to enable HRDs continue with advocacy work around their work and it also garnered much positive media coverage of their work at the national, regional and international level.
In the field of Advocacy and Research, EHAHRDP continued to raise awareness of the situation of HRDs in the sub-region at national, regional and international levels. At the regional level, EHAHRDP has been actively involved and given substantive input in 2013 to two study groups at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on both Freedom of Association and Assembly and on the situation of women HRDs.
A social media campaign highlighting the work of women HRDs during the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence generated significant interest, a great increase in traffic to EHAHRDP’s Facebook page. One single post, for example, received more than 1500 views.
We cannot talk about this past year without highlighting our flagship Protection Programme which continues to support HRDs at risk to enable them overcome the risks they are facing. We successfully reunited HRDs with their families in Malta and United Kingdom, after they had been separated because of their work. In addition, an education grant has enabled HRDs at risk to integrate socially in the host community; some have taken up further studies. We held a Protection Stakeholders meeting in April 2013 where we shared and developed best practices for our program with national focal points and coalition coordinators as well as regional and international experts on HRD protection.
Strengthening national coalitions remained one of EHAHRDP’s priorities in 2013. The National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Uganda was established on 14th June 2013 to strengthen the voice of individual HRDs and to provide protection in situations of immediate danger.
EHAHRDP organized numerous workshops and seminars for human rights defenders around the sub-region on strategic advocacy; organizational and financial management; monitoring, documentation and research; and coalition-building. These workshops served to consolidate our contacts in the region and build the capacity of our members.
The East Africa Human Rights Program (EAHRP) expanded to include South Sudan and Somalia and ten people in total from the two countries received human rights training. EHAHRDP hosted women HRDs from South Asia in a South to South Exchange program. The exchange gave South Asian HRDs and Ugandan women’s organizations opportunities to share best practices, mentoring and transfer of knowledge. East African women HRDs will travel to Sri Lanka to learn best practices from the South Asia region.
Over the course of the year, the Somalia Protection Programme for HRDs, which is being implemented in Mogadishu in collaboration with our local partners, concentrated on building the security management and protection work capacity in-country in Somalia, as well as taking first steps to create a pool of human rights education experts through EAHRP. The work will move onwards to capacity building and advocacy next year.
But amidst these accomplishments, there is still work to be done. HRDs whether individuals, civil society organizations, lawyers or journalists have a crucial role in Africa’s development. As we celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela for his courageous work and belief in the “ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities,” we appeal to governments across the continent to promote an enabling environment for HRDs to meaningfully engage in national dialogue and with regional and international human rights mechanisms without fear of reprisals.
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.
We are energized by our successes in 2013 and are committed to making 2014 a better year for us and our stakeholders. 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.
Our offices will close for the festive season on Friday 20th December 2013 and will re-open on Monday 6th January 2014, 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