Human Rights Defender of the Month: Anny Kapenga

As a young student, Anny Kapenga used to cringe at the cult-like worship of Mobutu Sese Seko, the then Zaire’s President. By then, in the early 1990s, Zaire was still under one party rule, and calls were increasing for Mobutu to open political space to allow other parties to operate. In the meantime, however, all Zairians were expected to show affection for Mobutu wherever they gathered in public.

Students across Zaire’s schools were required to sing and dance adoringly before his (Mobutu)’s portrait every morning before they went to class, and all school scholastic materials were emblemed with his portrait. A young Anne never really appreciated the obsession:

"Even at that stage, I knew it (the cult-like worship) was wrong because nobody was allowed to question why we were doing so. And I used to complain to my parents about it whenever I went back home,"

The stifling of freedom of expression and association was Anne’s awakening to the importance of human rights, and she would soon be drawn into, and eventually fall victim to her country’s troubled political history.

In 2010, in conjunction with a colleague, she formed Maman Kulutu Foundation, to campaign against communal violence in her native Province Orientale in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which was being propagated by Hema and Lendu militia fights for provincial supremacy.

"Violence was denying our people settled livelihoods and destabilising families. Whenever anyone spoke out against it, they were witch-hunted. The women who dared to speak out against it would either be raped to silence them, or the militias would target young activists to sleep with them and then publish them on social media to discredit them and ruin their families"

Anne dared to challenge all this, and she paid a high price for it. In 2013, She was attacked by Hema militias who subjected her to sexual violence. The Hema militias also murdered her children and husband, leaving her too traumatized to stay in DRC. She eventually escaped into exile in Uganda where she has struggled to survive.

"Until 2020, I was surviving on odd jobs. Sometimes, people would call me to cook at their events. At some point, I got a short-term job as a cook in a local Congolese restaurant, but I left due to discrimination. Whenever people from my hometown passed by to eat, they would tell everyone about my story to shame me. Up to now, there are areas in Kampala where I do not feel comfortable to live or even show up"

Anne dared to challenge all this, and she paid a high price for it. In 2013, She was attacked by Hema militias who subjected her to sexual violence. The Hema militias also murdered her children and husband, leaving her too traumatized to stay in DRC. She eventually escaped into exile in Uganda where she has struggled to survive.

"The international community should push governments to do more to protect women human rights defenders and HRDs with disabilities because they’re doubly vulnerable. For exiled WHRDs like myself, DefendDefenders should push for a strong partnership with host government to make sure they can access loans like citizens, get mentored on how to use them for their economic wellbeing and get fully integrated in the community"

See more HRDs of the Month

Human Rights Defender of the month: Alex Njenga John

Alex Njenga has always believed in egalitarianism both as a principle and as a tool for justice. As a result, he has always been suspicious of, and at times hostile to social prejudices that treat some people as “more equal than others,” – to use a line from George Orwell’s famed political fable, Animal Farm.

Some of the experiences that have shaped his social and political outlook have been personal. As an adolescent in Kenya’s Uasin Gishu County, Alex was stigmatised and denied healthcare after he identified himself as belonging to Kenya’s sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) community.

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.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Fadia Khalaf

Fadia Khalaf was not meant to be an activist. By her own admission, she was born into a conservative Muslim family – the first of six siblings. In Saudi Arabia where she was born and raised, the ruling ideology in the Kingdom was wahabbism – a puritanical version of Islam in which women are strictly expected to stay in the background and not play any public role. Yet even in that conservative setting, she managed to nurture a political consciousness:

“I think reading at young age helped build my awareness on concepts like justice and rights in general. I was exposed to concepts around human freedom, and that nurtured the rebel in me,” she says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Mugisha Jelousy

As the rest of Uganda readies itself to finally get its oil out of the ground with the conclusion of the Final Investment Decision (FID), Mugisha Jealousy, 50, is one of those following the events with a mournful resignation.

A resident of Kasenyi village, Nile Parish in Buliisa district, Mugisha is one of those affected by the Tilenga project, a multipronged project by Total E&P. The project involves reservation and development of land in districts of Buliisa and Nwoya for oil exploration, setting up of a crude oil processing plant and related infrastructure to support Uganda’s oil production activities.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Anny Kapenga

As a young student, Anny Kapenga used to cringe at the cult-like worship of Mobutu Sese Seko, the then Zaire’s President. By then, in the early 1990s, Zaire was still under one party rule, and calls were increasing for Mobutu to open political space to allow other parties to operate. In the meantime, however, all Zairians were expected to show affection for Mobutu wherever they gathered in public.

Students across Zaire’s schools were required to sing and dance adoringly before his (Mobutu)’s portrait every morning before they went to class, and all school scholastic materials were emblemed with his portrait. A young Anny never really appreciated the obsession:

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Fadwo Hassan Jimale

Women in Somalia are not supposed to be ‘loud.’ Historically, conservative religious traditions combined with a resilient patriarchal system ensured that women in the coastal nation remain veiled and meek, always in the shadow of their husbands.

Not so for Fadwo Hassan Jimale, Somalia’s crusading human rights defender. As a ranking member of Somalia’s Women Human Rights Defenders Coalition, Fadwo and her colleagues host regular capacity building sessions for current and emerging women human rights defenders (WHRDs).

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Oliver Rubama

As a lone girl in a traditionally patriarchal & heteronormative Muslim family in Tanzania, Oliver Rubama grew up with so much pressure to conform. She was expected to conform to socially expected patterns of female behavior and dress, and to aspire to get married to a man approved by her family.

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