Human Rights Defender of the Month: Edmund Yakani

Edmund Yakani is one of South Sudan’s most prominent human rights defenders (HRDs) and Civil Rights Defender of the Year 2017. Edmund 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.

So, when South Sudan’s government started planning a COVID-19 response, Edmund made sure that human rights were part of the equation. Edmund’s NGO, Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation (CEPO), released a checklist for human rights considerations in the response to COVID-19. Together with Global Peace Partner, CEPO also developed a national framework for the COVID-19 nexus with human rights. 

All focus was on dissemination of information around COVID-19, on awareness raising. But for example immunization of children from other medical sicknesses – it’s not been taken seriously, not been budgeted for.

Prevalent human rights issues suddenly lacked attention and resources, says Edmund: “All focus was on dissemination of information around COVID-19, on awareness raising. But for example immunization of children from other medical sicknesses – it’s not been taken seriously, not been budgeted for.” On top of that, new human rights issues are arising due to the pandemic. The economic effects of the lockdown have left many individuals financially vulnerable, resulting in a steep rise of sexual exploitation and rape cases, and police are enforcing the lockdown heavy-handedly. According to Edward, “the police are not taking into account elements of human rights protection…they can be aggressive, intimidating and harassing civilians.”

Intimidation and harassment are well-known to Edmund. In his 20-year long commitment as an HRD, he has received numerous death threats. He was even abducted. “Normally what they do is that they either call me by phone or they write to me a letter. And in terms of kidnapping, three times I’ve been kidnapped. With an attempt of an assassination.” 

His family and friends struggle to understand his dedication to human rights, he says: “People are questioning whatever I’m doing: ‘What is the benefit? Because we don’t see a benefit in your life or in terms of returns of what you’ve been shouting for, writing about or campaigning for.’ They think I’m wasting my time on these issues.” Though the lack of support can be challenging, Edward is motivated by his strong belief in human rights. “No one has the right to take away my life, because we are born free, and we are born equal. I know my life may be taken away by somebody, but it should be taken away while I’m struggling, to make sure that the human rights of individuals and communities are protected,” Edmund says. 

No one has the right to take away my life, because we are born free, and we are born equal. I know my life may be taken away by somebody, but it should be taken away while I’m struggling, to make sure that the human rights of individuals and communities are protected.

The same passion pushed him to get involved in advocacy around the government’s response to the pandemic: “Within this COVID-19, as human life is under threat, I feel that the rights to health, to an adequate standard of living, and to life are under attack. Putting human rights at the centre of the response is the best approach in making sure that the safety of individuals and communities is taken into account by the authorities.”

See more HRDs of the Month

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Sandra Aceng

Sandra Aceng is an outspoken and energetic woman human rights defender (WHRD). She is a gender and ICT researcher and policy analyst for Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) where she coordinates the Women ICT Advocacy Group, advocating for internet access for all. In addition, she writes on various platforms such as Global Voices, Freedom House, and Impakter Magazine. Her regular contributions to Wikimedia Uganda often focus on profiling WHRDs, female politicians, and journalists.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Chantal Mutamuriza

Chantal Mutamuriza does not wait for problems to be solved. When the Burundian woman human rights defender (WHRD) encounters a problem, she will seek a solution there and then. When hundreds of thousands Burundians had to flee from political unrest in 2015, many of them were stranded in refugee camps with little economic opportunity or access to education. In her problem-solving spirit, Chantal felt compelled to act: she quit her job to put her skills and network to use and founded the NGO Light For All.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Foni Joyce

Foni Joyce has engaged in humanitarian work since the age of 20, when she joined a refugee student organisation to amplify the voices of refugees. Originally from South Sudan, Foni grew up as a refugee in Nairobi, Kenya, but she makes it clear that ‘refugee’ is merely a legal definition: “I firstly define myself as a human being who has been uprooted.”

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Meskerem  Geset Techane

Meskerem Geset Techane has fought injustice since she can remember: as a child she was known to stand up for herself and others, whether against bullies, teachers, her parents or church. Fighting injustice and promoting human rights is a common theme in the lawyer’s life. “It’s a passion, promoting human rights is not something you choose to do for a living or as a career opportunity. It’s more of a calling for me.”

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Andrew Gole

Andrew Gole’s journey to become a human rights defender (HRD) was sparked by a small request: in 2015, a human rights organisation reached out to the trained software engineer about a digital security training. “I didn’t know much about the HRD eco-system or about digital security as an environment on its own,” Andrew says. “So, I did some research, and realised digital security support is just the basic support I used to provide in an internet café.”

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Onesmo Olengurumwa

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.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Malab Alneel

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.”

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