Human Rights Defenders of the Month

Every month, DefendDefenders profile a human rights defender (HRD) from the East and Horn of Africa sub-region to raise awareness about the outstanding work conducted by HRDs in the sub-region, and to shine light on the challenges faced while protecting and promoting human rights.

Meet some of the brave HRDs from the East and Horn of Africa!

January 2020
The Somali activist Faiza Abdi Mohamed has promoted human rights in her home country for a decade, which has made her a target of verbal abuse, threats, and arbitrary arrest, forcing her to flee Somalia and seek exile in Uganda. Yet, she remains extremely vocal about human rights violations in her country. “I’ve lost so many of my friends due to cruelties, so I can’t keep quiet,” she says.
December 2019
In Ethiopia, land grabbing and villagisation has resulted in severe human rights abuses, however, being vocal about these abuses can be extremely risky. Omot Agwa Okwoy, our human rights defender of the month for December 2019, has fought for land rights and the rights of indigenous people in the Gambella region in Ethiopia for almost 20 years – leaving him with visible and invisible scars.
November 2019
Brenda Kugonza has fought for women’s rights in Uganda for more than 13 years, and is currently the Executive Director of Women Human Rights Defenders Network-Uganda (WHRDN-U). “As a defender, you lose friends and family members – they don’t want to be associated with someone who brings them shame. We are viewed as women with bad manners and I struggle daily with discrimination,” she affirms.
October 2019
Gladness Hemedi Munuo is a journalist and an award-winning gender activist from Tanzania, with more than 20 years of human rights and media experience. “Shrinking space and crackdown on media causes huge problems in Tanzania – to me it’s a thing that needs serious and immediate action,” she stresses.
September 2019
Moses Kabaseke, a talented hip-hop artist and activist from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), was forced to flee to Uganda in 2013 – at only 16 years old. Kabaseke, known by his stage name Belidor, has produced music since he was a child. “I use music as a weapon – music has power. I use music to promote human rights.”
August 2019
As an inspiring activist, illustrator, and graphic designer, Alaa Satir uses her art as a tool to promote women’s rights and justice in Sudan. “The challenges that we, women, have faced in Sudanese society have been enormous – we have been the main casualties of Omar al-Bashir’s regime,” Satir says.
July 2019
Gladys Mmari is a driven Tanzanian human rights defender (HRD), and the founder of MAFGE (Male Advocacy For Gender Equality) – a non-governmental organisation (NGO) focused on women empowerment through educating both women and men. “So much of the work that I do is cultural conversation. We have grown up talking about these issues among women, but now, I have to work with men as well – making it more challenging,” Mmari stresses.
June 2019
Beatrice Githinji is a Kenyan human rights defender (HRD) and peace ambassador, advocating for land rights. Her dedication to land rights is based on the historical injustices faced by many local communities, where land grabbing is a major, long-standing concern. “Many HRDs are losing their lives over land rights issues,” Githinji stresses.
May 2019
The Sudanese refugee activist and aspiring lawyer, Abdul Aziz Muhamat, was detained by the Australian authorities at Manus Island (Papua New Guinea), under inhumane and unsafe conditions, for six years. While trapped in limbo, Aziz continued to fight for the rights of the about 600 men trapped at the island. His human rights commitment led him to win this years’ Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.
April 2019
Gabriel Mugaruka is a Congolese human rights defender (HRD), with 19 years specialised experience in child rights issues, including child soldiers, as well as women’s rights. As a vocal and prominent activist in Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he was forced to flee the country 11 years ago, seeking refuge in Uganda.
February 2019
Mildred Apenyo is a prominent Ugandan women’s right activist and feminist through her work as an entrepreneur, trainer, and writer. Apenyo is also the founder of FitCliqueAfrica, Uganda’s first female-only gym, aimed at empowering women and sexual minorities.
January 2019
Yared Hailemariam is an Ethiopian human rights defender (HRD), and the Executive Director of the Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE), a non-governmental and non-partisan organisation based in Brussels and Geneva, founded by activists that fled the country. He served as a lead investigator at the Ethiopia Human Rights Council (HRCO) for seven years before being forced into exile in the aftermath of the heavily contested 2005 election in the country.
December 2018
Joseph Parsambei is the founder and Executive Director of the Tanzania Pastoralist Community Forum (TPCF), a network of organisations dedicated to the protection and promotion of pastoralist and indigenous rights in Tanzania. As a lawyer, his outstanding human rights work focuses on forced displacement of marginalised communities, as well as addressing their lack of inclusion in the justice system.
November 2018
Anastsia Nambo and Is’haq Abubakar were awarded the Human Rights Defender (HRD) Award 2018, given out annually by the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders-Kenya (NCHRD-K) and the Working Group on Human Rights Defenders (WGHRD). This award recognises HRDs who have conducted extraordinary work to promote and protect human rights in Kenya.
October 2018
William Leslie Amanzuru is a Ugandan human rights defender from Northern Uganda whose work focuses on environmental protection and climate justice. He is the founder of Friends of Zoka, an organisation aimed at stopping illegal logging in Zoka Forest.
September 2018
Eulalie Nibizi is a Burundian human rights defender (HRD) living in exile in Uganda, and since 2017 has been the Coordinator of the Coalition Burundaise des Défenseurs des Droits de l’Homme (CBDDH). The CBDDH was founded in 2009 to promote civic and democratic space in Burundi, and foster cooperation among HRDs.
August 2018
50 year-old James Rukampena is a Ugandan human rights defender (HRD) who advocates for the rights of rural local communities in Kabarole District, Western Uganda, to access their natural resources. Despite the lifelong mark left by the attack on his body and the uncertainty brought upon his family by his disability, Rukampena does not regret his activism. “What keeps me going and motivated to be an activist is that.”
July 2018
Mohamed Farah, 34, is a Somali human rights defender (HRD). He is the founder and chairperson of the Somali Disability Empowerment Network (SODEN). In addition to his work with the Somali Coalition of Human Rights Defenders as a steering committee member and Disabled Peoples’ International, Farah advocates for people with disabilities who face serious discrimination.
June 2018
Vicky Ntetema is a former journalist and human rights defenders (HRDs) from Tanzania whose work spans more than two decades. In light of her home country’s recent crackdown on civic space, she has begun focusing her efforts towards full-time advocacy, bringing greater attention to human rights abuses and attacks against civil society.
May 2018
Dinah Nakuwa works with the Loima Women Empowerment Initiative (LOWEI), a small organisation of some 60 women founded in 2010 to address social issues in the Turkana region of Northern Kenya. In this arid hinterland, geographically and traditionally on the fringes of Kenyan politics, civil society organisations are predominantly community-based and male dominated – Nakuwa and the women of LOWEI seek to change that.