The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network
Final Communiqué on the 6th Focal Point Meeting
22 October 2020 – Kampala, Uganda
- The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (EHAHRD-Net) held its sixth hybrid Focal Point Meeting on 22 October 2020, at Méstil Hotel in Kampala, Uganda and online using Attendify and Zoom platforms.
- The Focal Point Meeting brought together national coalition representatives, country focal points, and human rights defenders (HRDs) from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. In total, 50 people took part in the meeting.
- Mr. Vital Nshimirimana, Chairperson of EHAHRD-Net; Chairperson of the Burundi National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders; and Chairperson of the Forum for the Strengthening of Civil Society, delivered the official opening remarks welcoming all participants and the successes of the past 2 years. He highlighted the six Ubuntu Hub Cities as safe spaces for HRDs and commended AfricanDefenders (Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network) on officially launching these hubs. He noted the regional situation and shared his thoughts on recent changes of leadership, upcoming elections, and the fight against misinformation. Mr. Nshimirimana commended the commitment and courage of HRDs in the region, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic and particularly highlighted the effects on women, girls, low socio-economic groups, and imprisoned persons – including HRDs.
- Ms. Sophie Kyagulanyi, Chairperson of DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project), Board of Directors, delivered her welcoming remarks. She congratulated the Focal Points from the 11 countries on the work done in the past years. She dedicated her remarks to networking in the spirit of thinking and learning, sharing insights on current situations and trends. Ms. Kyagulanyi highlighted the upcoming election periods in several countries in the sub-region and the different terrain that this will present for HRDs.
- Mr. Hassan Shire, Executive Director of DefendDefenders and Chairperson of AfricanDefenders gave his keynote address, acknowledging all participants and extending gratitude to the founding members present; Yared Haillemariam, Ms Sophie Kyagulanyi, and Ms. Faiza Mohamed. He further congratulated Ms. Kyagulanyi on her appointment as Chairperson of DefendDefenders’ Board of Directors for the next five years.
- Mr. Shire acknowledged key founding members who played a crucial role in EHAHRD-Net’s growth but have since died including; Late Osman Hummaida, Sudanese HRD and founder of African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, Late Abukar Sheikh Yusuf of Isha Human Rights Organisation, Baidoa, and Late Miriam Kahiga of Amnesty International Kenya. Mr. Shire requested the meeting to pause and observe a moment of silence for the fallen heroes.
- Further, Mr. Shire noted the importance of psychosocial care for HRDs, who often carry trauma with them, even after reaching a safe place. Mr. Shire applauded the work of women HRDs in Sudan, the bravery of LGBTI+ Africans and HRDs, and activists working on extremely sensitive issues like high-level corruption, extractives industries, land, and environmental concerns. Mr. Shire concluded by thanking his staff for their work and the members of EHAHRD-Net for their support.
- Ms. Estella Kabachwezi, Manager of the Advocacy and Research department gave an update on country situations in the East and Horn of Africa sub-region. She drew particular attention to shifting dynamics in the region, in the lead up to, and aftermath of, general elections in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania, and Uganda, and the heightened attacks on HRDs during electoral periods. Ms. Kabachwezi highlighted the criminalisation of dissent with restrictive laws, such as in Tanzania, and a shrinking civic space. She particularly noted the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the sub-region, including the many reported human rights violations that have increased in the pretext of curbing the spread of the virus, in particular in Rwanda and Kenya.
- During a discussion moderated by Mr. Nshimirimana, several participants commented on the country situations in the sub-region. Ms. Margaret Sekaggya, Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (NCHRD-U) and Executive Director of Human Rights Centre Uganda asked the Network members to reflect on measures to address the situation. Strategies identified included documentation of violations and engaging with state actors and institutions including the executive; developing a score card of the 11 countries with a common criterion to document strengths and weaknesses of police officers; and the need to continue supporting minority HRDs. Mr. Nshimirimana emphasized the importance of keeping human rights movements alive and not remaining silent.
- Ms. Memory Bandera, Director of Programs and Administration at DefendDefenders, presented an update on EHAHRD-Net’s performance for the past two years, according to the four action plan focus areas:
1) On capacity building, Ms. Bandera, noted 2,068 HRDs have been trained in risk assessment and physical security, digital security, and monitoring, documenting, and reporting. The technology program has trained 564 individuals and their organisations.
2) Concerning strategies to enhance the advocacy work of HRDs, Ms. Bandera noted the opening of the Geneva Officer and hiring of a Representative to UN-Mr. Nicolas Agostini; and the support of 34 HRDs to access and participate at ACHPR and HRC sessions. Additionally, the secretariat has published nine reports and engages with the Civic Space Monitor.
3) Strategies to enhance the social and political environment for the protection of HRDs:1,912 HRDs were supported, including 737 emergency protection grants; wellbeing sessions have been held with over 300 HRDs; and a special project launched to enable HRDs in exile continue with their work.
4) The strategies to improve the networking capacity of EHAHRD Network and its members have been strengthened through establishing and extending support and mentorship to national coalitions.
Further, Ms. Bandera congratulated the efforts in launching the Ethiopian Coalition of HRDs in December 2019 and the South Sudan Network for HRDs in getting its registration in June 2019. She spoke about the work of AfricanDefenders, that has through the Ubuntu Hub Cities program received 73 requests for assistance and supported 36 HRDs with protection or relocation grants in its first year of being officially launched.
Finally, Ms. Bandera noted areas in need of attention; strategic litigation, lobbying of transnational and national corporations, regular fundraising activities, and better coordination efforts among Network members.
- Mr. Joseph Bikanda, Coordinator of AfricanDefenders, moderated a discussion on the Plan of Action for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in the sub-region. He gave a brief overview of the objectives, corresponding programme results, and key strategic initiatives.
The strategies proposed and adopted include; sensitization of local civil society organisations to access mechanisms at the regional and international levels, strengthening national coalitions’ swift protection mechanisms across the region, access to justice to end impunity at the regional and international levels, strengthen evidence -based advocacy, follow-up on status of WHRDs in refugee camps, capacity enhancement tools are crucial in the run up to elections across the sub-region, enhance strategic litigation and continue capacity building initiatives in monitoring, documenting across the sub-region, establish and strengthen collaboration between the national coalitions and national human rights institutions. Finally, participants adopted the Plan of Action.
- Mr. Stanley Wobusobozi, Monitoring and Evaluation Expert presented highlights of the 2021-2025 Strategic Plan. Mr. Wobusobozi informed the members that the vision, mission and core values had been revised. He noted that an estimated 35 million Euros is needed to cover the projected work plan for 2021 to 2025.
- Mr. Shire proposed the adoption of the Strategic Plan 2021-2025-Enhancing the safety and capacities of HRDs in the region for greater resilience and effective fulfilment of their mandates, which was unanimously adopted. Mr Shire then launched the Strategic Plan and thanked the Consultants who assisted with its drafting process namely Mr. Patrick Tumusiime and Mr. Tom Olila.
- Additionally, Mr Shire invited key Board members and focal point representatives to the podium and launched DefendDefenders’ Annual Report 2019.
- The participants had a spontaneous celebration both physically and virtually dancing to Bob Marley’s ‘Get Up, Stand Up’. The song speaks to the importance of speaking up against human rights violations- which is core to the work of HRDs worldwide.
- Finally, Commissioner Rémy Ngoy Lumbu, Vice Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Special Rapporteur on HRDs, gave his closing remarks. He extended his thanks to the EHAHRD-Net and DefendDefenders. He encouraged the EHAHRD-Net to maintain their energy while working with HRDs. He highlighted the need for better relationships with state actors, for better documentation, and strategic litigation.
- In conclusion, Mr. Shire thanked Commissioner Ngoy Lumbu for his remarks and asked Mr. Nshimirimana to close the meeting. Mr. Nshimirimana commended the work of the national coalitions and welcomed the many useful recommendations and suggestions that had been raised. He declared the meeting officially closed.