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!

September 2020
Protecting human rights is Onesmo Olengurumwa’s passion. When his secondary school lacked access to water and was threatened with closure, Onesmo successfully rallied his fellow students together and protested for their right to education. While at university, he was the human rights association’s president. Becoming a human rights defender was not really a conscious choice, but just the natural course of Onesmo’s life.
August 2020
Malab Alneel was only 20 when Sudan’s revolution started in December 2018, but she knew it was the moment to get involved: “I grew up in a house that was very political. All of my sisters are activists, my parents are very involved. Activism has always been there. But for me it started with the revolution. It just felt like a time for change.”
July 2020
Karis Moses Oteba is DefendDefenders’ Protection Officer and Well-being Lead, promoting self-care and effective stress management amongst human rights defenders. He started defending human rights at the early age of 11, as a member of the children’s parliament, convened to listen to the views of children concerning Uganda’s 1997 Children’s Act.
June 2020
Vanessa Tsehaye started her work as a human rights defender at an early age: at 16, she founded a high school group in support of imprisoned Eritrean journalist Seyoum Tsehaye. Seven years later, the same diaspora organisation, One Day Seyoum, is one of Eritrea’s leading human rights organisations – spear-headed by the now 23-year old Vanessa.
May 2020
Edmund Yakani is one of South Sudan’s most prominent human rights defenders (HRDs). The Civil Rights Defender of the Year 2017 has worked on an array of topics – the rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs), transitional justice, and the protection of HRDs in cooperation with DefendDefenders – that are all connected by the common thread of human rights promotion and protection.
April 2020
In March 2020, Uganda’s Constitutional Court nullified the Public Order Management Act, 2013, a law that made arbitrary restrictions on freedom of assembly possible. One of the people behind the successful petition of POMA is Onyango Owor, a Ugandan lawyer with 15 years of experience in representing human rights defenders.
March 2020
Kadar Abdi Ibrahim is an outspoken human rights activist and journalist from Djibouti – a country where journalists are frequently harassed, subjected to government-orchestrated intimidation and reprisals, and prevented from pursuing their work independently. Yet, Kadar continues to use his voice and pen as tools to promote justice.
February 2020
Aluel Atem is an ambitious woman activist from South Sudan who plays a vital role in the promotion of women’s rights in the country. However, life as an outspoken feminist in a patriarchal country is not a walk in the park. “It’s not only about being a female, but a young female. You get undermined for being a woman in all-man spaces, and for being young in older spaces,” Aluel explains.
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.
March 2019
Born and raised in the Nuba mountains in Sudan, Kamal Ramadan, Kodi Marshall, and Ganja Ali have for years been fighting for the rights of the Sudanese people. In 2014, the trio formed the group Nuba Mountains Sounds, and has since promoted human rights and freedom through music and movie productions. “We wish to be the voice of the voiceless,” Kodi stresses.
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.