HRC35: Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention

Human Rights Council: 35th Session

Item 4: General DebateHuman rights situations that require the Council’s attention

Oral Intervention
East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project

Delivered by Mr. Hassan Shire

Thank you Mr. President.

I thank you for the opportunity to raise some serious concerns we have regarding elections in the East and Horn of Africa.  Human rights defenders in the sub-region often act as bellwethers for crises to come.

When they are targeted, when their work is restricted through repressive legislation, when they are forced to leave everything behind, we need to realise that a downward trend that is likely to follow.

In Burundi or in Ethiopia, for example, elections have come at a cost for civil society and the media looking to actively engage with this democratic process.

That is why today I wish to express my specific concern for August 2017 elections in Kenya. While Kenya’s civil society remains among the strongest in the sub-region, HRDs today are limited from engaging fully and critically with the electoral process. According to the Kenyan Coalition for Human Rights Defenders, in 9 different counties, monitors designated by civil society either experienced hostility or were barred from accessing polling stations during the party primaries in April 2017.

Mr. President, we call on members of the Council to fulfil their democratic commitments by organising elections, but also ensuring that all, including political parties, civil society, and media, are able to engage freely and safely in the process.


Human Rights Defender of the month: Esther Tawiah

In Ghana, Esther Tawiah is one of the loudest voices for women empowerment and gender. It is also why she is one of the most loathed. Born and raised in New-Tafo in the country’s eastern region, Esther grew up surrounded by a culture that frowned at the idea of women participating in public affairs, and witnessed firsthand, the backlash those who dared to challenge that cultural norm faced.

“I grew up in a society where ageism and sexism were so entrenched. As a young person, you weren’t supposed to give your opinion on public issues, especially if you were a woman. Women who dared to speak up were caricatured and branded as frustrated, unmarriageable prostitutes, all designed to shut them up,” she says.