HRC37: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders

Human Rights Council: 37th Session
Item 3: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders

Thank you Mr. President.

The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project welcomes  the report of  the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and recognises the vital role of human rights defenders working to protect and promote the rights of people on the move. Although his findings are worrisome they also show a fundamental truth – whenever human rights are violated, people will speak out.

Despite their invaluable role, human rights defenders continue to work at great personal risk. Together with our partners, we have documented at least 137 attacks worldwide in the first 60 days of 2018. These rarely happen in isolation, but are a bellwether for future repression, and we draw your attention to the continued violations committed against human rights defenders in the East and Horn of Africa.

Mr. President, we are particularly concerned with the situation of human rights defenders in Tanzania. Since 2015, the civic space for human rights defenders in Tanzania has shrunk significantly. In August 2017, environmental defender Wayne Lotter was shot and killed in Dar-es-Salaam. Last week, land rights defender Godfrey Luena was attacked and killed outside his home by unknown assailants. The fate of Azory Gwand, a journalist who was disappeared in November 2017, remains unknown. Violations have now spilled over in the political realm, with at least two opposition members being attacked in what the EU mission has described as a threat to democratic values.

Authorities have repeatedly broken up private civil society gatherings and workshops, and since September 2017, at least 55 human rights defenders have been arbitrarily arrested while attending such events. Human rights defenders working on sexual orientation and gender identity issues are themselves at particular risk and, as the government escalates the rhetoric against them, they find both themselves and their constituents cut off from essential services such as healthcare.

The Tanzanian government has made great progress recently, notable in fighting corruption. However, it is essential that it comes to accept human rights defenders as partners in development, rather than view them as adversaries.

I thank you Mr. President.



Human Rights Defender of the month:Mary Pais Da Silva

On 17 February 2023, in Ethiopia’s rustic resort of Bishoftu, more than 5000Km from her homeland, Mary Da Silva was announced winner of the 2023 AfricanDefenders Shield Award, in the presence of hundreds of colleague human rights defenders from 36 African countries. It was a fitting validation for the Eswatini human rights lawyer, whose sense of empathy and sensitivity to injustice has been a defining hallmark of her career.
Born 45 years ago in Lubombo, eastern Eswatini, the last of 4 siblings, Mary attributes her values to her upbringing. Although she was born in Eswatini, her parents are originally from Mozambique, and only relocated to eSwatini at the start of the Mozambican civil war that lasted between 1977-1992, which ravaged families and displaced many others. As one of the earliest to escape and settle in Eswatini, Mary’s family shouldered the responsibility of being a gateway for many other Mozambicans escaping the violence in their country for a more peaceful and stable livelihood in Southern Africa. This experience was illuminating for Mary