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: 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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