Human Rights Defender of the month: Abacha Ahmed Ibrahim

Abacha Ahmed Ibrahim is one of his country’s leading advocates for the rights of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs).

 

Born 34 years ago into a family of Eight, in Kajokeji County, East of Juba, the Capital of South Sudan, Abacha ’s passion for human rights was born out of grim personal experience. At birth, he was immediately neglected by his father on discovering that the little infant was visually impaired.

“My own father denied me access to education because he considered my disability a kind of misfortune brought to him by my mother,” he says.

Consequently, Abacha had to rely on his mother to fend for him through school, an experience that brought him face-face with the deep-seated and far-reaching social stigma against PWDs prevalent in South Sudan society and institutions.

“This (the stigma) was my earliest motivation – by the time I was getting done with secondary school, I was determined to pursue a career in human rights, particularly the rights of PWDs, to show that they too are people like others, he says.

Today, Abacha works as a Senior Program Manager at Action for Community Education, one of the leading NGOs in Juba, where he manages education projects and human rights advocacy. Here, for the last 10 years, he has been organising people into local group focus discussions and community dialogues as a way of creating civic consciousness and creating social awareness about the importance of education and the human rights, including the rights of PWDs.

documented over 100 cases of missing persons, and helped locate about 60, from prisons to hospitals. Among these, at least five were found dead in city morgues.

“We mobilise all people including PWDs to participate in these discussions. That way, people are able to appreciate that no matter one’s physical ability, or disability, we all are human beings with common needs and aspirations. This contributes to eliminating stigma against PWDs,” he says.

Like in many other countries around the region, Abacha notes that PWDs in South Sudan continue to face challenges, from poorly designed buildings with neither rumps nor lifts, no parking spaces designated to PWDs, to insufficient social welfare programs designed to uplift PWDs from poverty.

Things are made even more complicated by South Sudan’s history with political conflict.

“Working in the field of human rights in a country recovering from a civil war is not easy. There is a lot of suspicion, and it is difficult to pursue accountability. Oftentimes, we’re denied access to accountability institutions, we face threats and intimidation. In one such incident, I even received a death threat from one of our security agencies following an opinion I wrote in the press criticizing the human rights abuses in the country,” Abacha observes.

Still, he is optimistic of better days ahead for human rights defenders and PWDs

“Recognition of persons with disability, community mindset and perception attitudes are gradually changing towards PWDs. The enactment of inclusive policies like the National Inclusive Education Policy 2014 and the South Sudan National Disability Inclusion Policy 2013 also shows that the authorities that be recognise the existence of an issue that needs to be addressed,” he says.

There is still work to be done though. Abacha notes that there is need to among others ensure that PWDs participate in identifying barriers that impede their access, involve them in planning, designing, and implementing town building plans and community programs, include PWDs and their caregivers in community decision making structures and processes, and finally, to create a nationwide corporate environment with the right business strategy and attitude to recruit, hire, retain and advance the careers of PWDs.

“That is our next frontier,” he says.

See more HRDs of the Month

Human Rights Defender of the month: Kasale Maleton Mwaana

Kasale’s human rights activism precedes his years. The son of pastoralist parents from Ngorongoro district in northern Tanzania, he grew up seeing his parents and entire community having to defend their land and way of life against authorities who thought their lands could be put to better use. Now, at 25, Kasale is already one of the most recognizable advocates of his people’s cause, much to the ire of Tanzanian authorities.
“Our people’s struggle goes back many generations. It started with the pushing out of our forefathers from Serengeti to gazette Serengeti National Park in 1959, and then further evictions from the Ngorongoro crater to gazette the Ngorongoro conservation area in 1975. Since then, every generation has had to resist further evictions. It’s now my generation’s turn,” he says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Pierre Claver Mbonimpa

Arguably no single individual personifies Burundi’s human rights struggle like Pierre Claver Mbonimpa. Born 72 years ago in the small East African country, Claver’s quest for human rights and justice is as old as his country’s modern history.

When his country was plunged into a civil war that killed an estimated 300,000 people following the 1993 assassination of President Cyprien Ntaryamira, Claver was one of its earliest victims. Then a close confidant (he was also a former driver) of the assassinated President, he was framed, and arrested, and would go on to spend the next two years between 1994 and 1996 in jail.

It is in prison that the ulcer of injustice bit him hard. There, he met inmates who had either been wrongfully imprisoned or who had been remanded for long periods without trial, all living in dehumanising conditions. “I was strongly revolted by the injustice. Here were probably innocent people whose years were being wasted away by an unfair judicial system, with no one to stand up for them. I swore that I would try to do something about it once I got out myself,” he says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Kamau Ngugi

On October 7, 2022, Kamau Ngugi was elected Chairperson of the East and Horn of Africa human rights defenders’ network (EHAHRD-net), a stirring affirmation for the Kenyan human rights defender’s efforts in defense of human rights that go back nearly 30 years.

But it was not always this promising for her. Born 37 years ago in Grand Kru, Southeastern Liberia, Margaret had to do with a childhood of abuse, neglect, and want, after her, her sibling and her mother were abandoned by their father at an early age.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Margaret Muna Nigba

A human rights lawyer per excellence, Margaret is also an indefatigable woman human rights defender (WHRD) who has won the adulation of millions in her country for her impassioned dedication to defending the rights of women and girls in her native Liberia.

But it was not always this promising for her. Born 37 years ago in Grand Kru, Southeastern Liberia, Margaret had to do with a childhood of abuse, neglect, and want, after her, her sibling and her mother were abandoned by their father at an early age.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Mohammed Adam Hassan

Mohammed Hassan has known mostly conflict, displacement, and war all his adult life. As part of Sudan’s black population in the country’s region of Darfur, they were for long the victims of oppression by Khartoum, then under now deposed dictator Omar Bashir. Then, in 2003, when Mohammed was 19, Darfur’s black population decided to fight back. Two rebel movements – Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement launched a rebellion against Bashir’s government, seeking justice for Darfur’s non-Arab population. The response by Khartoum was chilling: Bashir’s forces launched a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the region’s non-Arab population, and thousands of families were displaced and herded into refugee camps.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Issah Musundi

At first encounter, Issah Musundi is a coy, if not shy, mostly reserved lad. But behind that quiet disposition is a steely character and an enforced existence.
Born 27 years ago in Kenya’s border district of Busia, Issah belongs to Kenya’s sexual minorities community, who have had to win majority rights that other Kenyans take for granted.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Agather Atuhaire

In late May this year, Agather Atuhaire, via her twitter account, broke the story that the Parliament of Uganda had spent a whopping Shs. 2.8billion to purchase two luxury vehicles for the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker.

Aside from the fact that the expenditure was unnecessary – both the Speaker and her Deputy already have two luxury vehicles for their official duties, the purchase flouted all public procurement procedures, and when Parliament’s contracts committee could not approve the procurement, the members of the committee were fired and new ones immediately appointed to approve the purchase.

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.

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