Human Rights Defender of the Month: Elrudia Abdalla Hussein

By the time Elrudia Abdalla Hussein, a Sudanese woman human rights defender was in secondary school, she had witnessed the killings of countless people. Growing up in Darfur, she observed violence and human rights abuses. “If you do not have power, you do not have rights,” she concluded.  As a result, she decided to join a student association during her tertiary education to raise awareness about human rights and fight injustice.

When strangers entered their family home in 2010, Elrudia and her husband decided to flee to Uganda with their children. As a refugee, Elrudia faced new human rights challenges. Many of the Sudanese refugee women in her community are single mothers struggling financially. Coming from a war zone, they often face mental health challenges. Many of them only know basic English, making it difficult to navigate the Ugandan refugee system. When one of the women in Elrudia’s community struggled to pay rent, she got together with a group of Sudanese refugee women to help out.

“We decided to come together as sisters, and all put in a financial contribution to pay two months of her rent. After this, we decided to continue the communal support and founded an association.” Sudanese Women for Peace and Development association not only helps refugee women financially, but also with asylum procedures, referrals for support by other NGOs, counselling, trainings, and raising awareness about their rights. It is run entirely by volunteers from the Sudanese refugee community, who also fund the project to a large extent.

As refugees, it can be quite tricky to defend human rights in Uganda: involvement in politics can lead to an investigation that could ultimately revoke refugee status, but the line between politics and human rights is often rather thin. Elrudia’s association clearly focuses on social work, yet they carefully steer clear of any speech or activity that could be interpreted as political – a difficult balancing act sometimes. Another difficulty Elrudia and other exiled HRDs face is how to generate income for their families. Refugees have to rely on informal jobs to cover expenses like rent, food or school fees, so Elrudia often sells food she has prepared – while running the women’s association and also completing her master’s degree in Agriculture and Economics.

What keeps her going is hope: “I see things getting better around me. It’s easier to be in touch with friends and family back in Darfur. That gives me hope. Seeing the impact that we make in our community pushes me to continue, despite the difficulties. And: when I start something, I finish it!”

 

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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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