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Final Communiqué on the 5th EHAHRD-Net focal point meeting

5th Focal Point Meeting
2 and 3 July 2018 – Kampala, Uganda

1) The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (Network) held its fifth Focal Point Meeting from 2 to 3 July 2018, at Skyz Hotel in Kampala, Uganda.
2) The Focal Point Meeting brought together national coalition representatives, country focal points, and human rights defenders (HRDs) from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Somalia and Somaliland), Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. Around 50 people took part in the meeting.
3) Mr. Hassan Shire, Executive Director of DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project) and Chairperson of the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network, gave his welcoming remarks and highlighted the worrisome human rights situation in the sub-region, leading to the growing trend of HRDs being forced into exile. He also highlighted some worrying trends at the global level especially in light of populist and some authoritarianist states at the cost of civic space. He pointed out that HRDs are the ones speaking truth to power and giving a voice to those who cannot speak. Mr. Shire concluded by thanking his staff for their work and the members of the Network for their support.
4) The Chairman of DefendDefenders’ Board of Directors; Executive Director of Foundation for Human Rights Initiatives; and UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order, Dr. Livingstone Sewanyana gave his remarks and commended DefendDefenders’ democratic practice of involving focal points in decision-making. He insisted on the democratic backlash and the need to restore hope in the region. He called upon human rights defenders to think through some innovative means of deconstructing the existing systems because we will not make progress without a paradigm shift.
5) Mr. Vital Nshimirimana, Chairperson of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network; Chairperson of the Burundi National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders; and Chairperson of the Forum for the Strengthening of Civil Society, gave the official opening remarks welcoming all participants and took this opportunity to thank all members for entrusting him with the responsibility of the Network. He gave a glimpse of the regional situation and shared his personal experience as an HRD living and continuing to work in exile. He commended the commitment and courage of HRDs in the region. He officially opened the meeting.
6) Ms. Memory Bandera, Director of Programs and Administration at DefendDefenders, presented the achievements and challenges of the Network and the Secretariat, including:
a. The work carried out under the protection and security management component where a provision of an average of 200 emergency grants are disbursed every year; b. The impact of the advocacy, research, and communication team at the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and at the UN Human Rights Council. She highlighted the importance of the new office in Geneva on the advocacy efforts of the Network; c. On capacity development, she highlighted the results of DefendDefenders with trainings for HRDs and their organisations, as well as the technical support provided; For the challenges, Ms. Bandera highlighted the difficulties encountered internally and externally while providing protection especially dealing with changing immigration laws, limited information from HRDs and partners, and insufficient financial resources.
7) During a discussion moderated by Ms. Bandera, Mr. Nshimirimana, Mr. Shire and Dr. Sewanyana spoke about the future of human rights, the expansion of malpractices, and the growing anti-human rights narratives. They insisted on challenging the so-called “state sovereignty doctrine”, which governments used as a shield against scrutiny, and more generally, to rethink the links between human rights, the State and politics.
8) Ms. Sheila Muwanga, Vice-President of the International Federation for Human Rights and Deputy Director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, moderated the first panel of the meeting, during which panellists discussed the “Closed civic space and its effects on HRDs and their work” in South Sudan, Sudan, Rwanda, Eritrea, Burundi and Djibouti.
9) A second panel, moderated by Hon. Mary Simat, Member of Narok County Assembly and Chairperson of the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Kenya, shed light on “Developments around legal and political laws: a reflection on the human rights situation and the current trends”, in Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya.
10) During the last panel discussion moderated by Ms. Vicky Ntetema, Chair of the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition, representatives of Somaliland, Uganda and Tanzania discussed “Freedom of expression” in their respective countries.
11) On the second day of the meeting (3 July 2018), after a recap of the day given by Ms. Ludivine Lecat, Project Coordinator at DefendDefenders, Ms. Muwanga, gave a summary of discussions from the previous day. She presented some trends in the region, such as: the use of legislation to curtail human rights, the growingcontestation of the universality of human rights, the exodus of HRDs, and the need to be innovative to face those emerging challenges. She opened the floor to participants.Issues raised included the need to focus on the rights of indigenous people in the region; and on strategies for engagements with governments and national human rights institutions.
12) Ms. Tabitha Netuwa, Protection and Security Manager at DefendDefenders presented the last Plan of Action and formed groups for participants to review and propose modifications to the Plan of Action in line with the current situation in the region. Ms. Salome Nduta, the Protection Officer at the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Kenya led the plenary discussion on contributions from the group discussions.
13) DefendDefenders’ capacity building assistant, Anne Nakiyingi, summarised the results of the needs assessments conducted with National Coalitions currently established in eight countries of the network. She commended the proactive work of national coalitions and highlighted the main challenges they face working within the shrinking space for civil society. She identified gaps and needs in capacity building to be addressed in the future. Ms. Kristina Kumar, an intern at DefendDefenders from York University, concluded the session by summarizing the inputs shared by participants on the way forward for the National Coalitions.
14) Ms. Estella Kabachwezi, Senior Research and Advocacy Officer and Ms. Lecat of DefendDefenders, presented the amendments made by participants on the Plan of Action of the Network. Mr. Hassan Shire declared the amendments adopted and tasked DefendDefenders’ staff to work on a final version of the Plan of Action.
15) Mr. Nicolas Agostini, Representative to the UN for DefendDefenders, presented country resolutions on the situation in Burundi and Ethiopia, all adopted by acclamation.
16) Mr. Shire, thanked members for coming and invited Mr. Nshimirimana, Chairperson of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network, to close the meeting. Mr. Nshimirimana appreciated the high level contributions and thanked all participants for their active participation during the entire two day meeting. He officially closed the meeting.