Human Rights Defender of the Month: Faiza Abdi Mohamed

The Somali activist Faiza Abdi Mohamed has promoted human rights in her home country for a decade, which has made her a target of verbal abuse, threats, and arbitrary arrest, forcing her to flee Somalia and seek exile in Uganda. Yet, she remains extremely vocal about human rights violations in her country. “I’ve lost so many of my friends due to cruelties, so I can’t keep quiet,” she says.  

Faiza has played an important role in the protection of human rights defenders (HRDs) in her country. From 2012, she was part of DefendDefenders’ three-year protection project for HRDs in Somalia, where she monitored human rights violations throughout the country. Moreover, from 2015, she was the National Coordinator of the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders in Somalia (NCHRD-S).

“I’ve lost so many of my friends due to cruelties, so I can’t keep quiet.”

Being an activist in Somalia is dangerous. Being a woman activist is even more dangerous. “When you are a strong woman and you know your rights, you will face a lot of challenges – especially from men. They will say you’re are supporting western communities. Sometimes you will be challenged under Sharia laws. They say, Allah gave you everything, what more are you looking for?”

The date 2 April 2019 is engraved in Faiza’s memory. While on her way to the office she was arrested by policemen stationed at one of Mogadishu’s many roadblocks, claiming that she was a man. “They knew I was a woman, but right before this episode I had shared a social media post about the Somali police killing of innocent people. They knew that, and that’s why they arrested me,” Faiza explains.

Faiza has partaken in many of DefendDefenders’ events, including the Interactive Dialogue Between Protection Stakeholders and Human Rights Defenders in Exile in Uganda, September 2019. (Photo: DefendDefenders)

After her release, Faiza shared a social media post about her encounter with the police, which secured her interviews with several Somali TV stations, as well as the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Additionally, the publicity put her further on the governments’ radar, and she was summoned to meet the chief police in Mogadishu. “He said, why did you abuse the police? I told him that they were violating my rights. But he told me to say that my social media post was false, and if not, I’ll go to jail. I wouldn’t do that, and I was willing to go to jail. He saw that I was not afraid. Then he said, ‘I don’t know how we can protect you now. Even the extremist groups know about your name’,” she recalls.

“When you are a strong woman and you know your rights, you will face a lot of challenges – especially from men. They will say you’re are supporting western communities. Sometimes you will be challenged under Sharia laws. They say, Allah gave you everything, what more are you looking for?”

Faiza believes that more attention should be given to HRDs in her country – by actors at all levels of society. First, she points to the lack of existing laws protecting HRDs in her country. “Regional and international actors can put pressure on the Somali government,” she states.  Secondly, she calls for more monitoring, and reporting, of human rights violations. She further stresses the need to train media actors to ensure fact-based and neutral reporting, as well as to build the capacity of civil society organisations  and ensure civil society’s access to decision-making forums in Somalia. “We need guidance and funding. The small opportunities that Somali women can benefit from can save people.”

Currently, Faiza is based in Kampala, Uganda, as she had to flee her country in August 2019. She is determined to continue her activism, stressing that “I’ve seen people keep quiet and still be killed. I rather not stay quiet and be killed,” she affirms.

See more HRDs of the Month

Human Rights Defender of the month: Veronica Almedom

Veronica Almedom is a poster child of successful immigration. A duo Eritrean and Swiss citizen, she was born in Italy, and grew up in Switzerland where she permanently resides. Her parents are some of the earliest victims of Eritrea’s cycles of violence. When Eritrea’s war of independence peaked in the early 1980s, they escaped the country as unaccompanied minors, wandering through Sudan, Saudi Arabia, before making the hazard journey across the Mediterranean into Europe. There, they crossed first to Italy, and finally, to Switzerland, where they settled first as refugees, and later, as permanent residents.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Omar Faruk Osman

Omar Faruk’s career, and the passion that drove it, were the product of his circumstances. He was born in 1976, in the first of strong man Mohamed Siad Barre’s two-decade rule over Somalia, which was characterized by gross rights abuses and barely existent civic space. He came of age in the 90s when those abuses and rights violations were peaking, as his country was engulfed by a ruinous civil war following the collapse of the Siad Barre dictatorship.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Rita Kahsay

When the Ethiopian Federal Government representatives and those of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) signed a peace agreement in Pretoria, in November last year, the two parties were hailed for ending arguably the deadliest conflict of the 21st century, in which over 600,000 people had died.
But long before the negotiators for peace got around to an agreement, there were many other unsung heroes, who, through individual and collective efforts helped sustain the world’s gaze on the dire situation in Tigray, despite the Ethiopian Government’s determined efforts to hush it up.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Godfrey Kagaayi

Born 33 years ago, in Bukoba, northern Tanzania, Godfrey Kagaayi did not have to look elsewhere for inspiration to tackle the daunting challenge of mental health. By his own admission, the family and community in which he was raised were fertile grounds for the same.
His family had crossed the border into Uganda when he was barely 5 months, settling into present day Rakai district. But the Rakai of the 90s was a difficult place for a child to make their earliest memories: In 1990, Uganda’s first ever case of HIV/AIDs was reported in the district, setting off a decade of suffering and anguish for many of its residents. Taking advantage of the Rakai’s fishing and polygamous lifestyle, the novel virus spread like wildfire, killing people in droves and leaving untold heartache in its wake.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Hiader Abdalla Abu Gaid

Hiader Abdalla Abu Gaid is one of the lucky survivors of Sudan’s latest conflict.

He was born 36 years ago, in Almalha locality, North Darfur state, the third born in a family of 10. Then, Darfur was not the hot bed of war and conflict it has since become infamous for. Although the region, predominantly inhabited by Sudan’s black population remained segregated by the predominantly Arab government in Khartoum, its people co-existed in thriving, predominantly subsistence communities. In Almalha, people reared camels and cattle, while others tended crops. The community was also famed for its hospitality to strangers, welcoming outsiders who ended up staying, owning land, and intermarrying with their hosts.

Human Rights Defender of the month:Immaculate Nabwire and Daphne Nakabugo

In personality, Immaculate Nabwire and Daphne Nakabugo could not be more different. Where the former is loud, if free-spirited, and mischievous, the latter is quiet, reticent, and predominantly solitary. Together though, they are the quiet champions behind DefendDefenders’ digital skilling programs, equipping (women) human rights defenders with critically transformative – and sometimes, life-saving digital tools and skills.
“You’ll be surprised how many people out there, including the literate are not exposed to the idea of digital safety. And as technology gets more advanced, it is getting ever more lucrative for hackers and other malign actors, which means that the urgency of the need for digital security skills for everyone cannot be over-stated,” says Daphne.

Human Rights Defender of the month:Mary Pais Da Silva

On 17 February 2023, in Ethiopia’s rustic resort of Bishoftu, more than 5000Km from her homeland, Mary Da Silva was announced winner of the 2023 AfricanDefenders Shield Award, in the presence of hundreds of colleague human rights defenders from 36 African countries. It was a fitting validation for the Eswatini human rights lawyer, whose sense of empathy and sensitivity to injustice has been a defining hallmark of her career.
Born 45 years ago in Lubombo, eastern Eswatini, the last of 4 siblings, Mary attributes her values to her upbringing. Although she was born in Eswatini, her parents are originally from Mozambique, and only relocated to eSwatini at the start of the Mozambican civil war that lasted between 1977-1992, which ravaged families and displaced many others.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Jane Naini Meriwas

Like many African societies, The Samburu community in Northern Kenya is a gerontocracy – a very hierarchical community in which elders hold sway over almost all private and public matters. Among these predominantly pastoral nomads, very little importance is attached to the young – especially young girls, who are barely given a chance at education and often married off before their first menstrual cycle, but not before they undergo mandatory Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
It is in this community that Jane Naini Meriwas was born 46 years ago, in Kipsing village, Oldonyiro Subcounty, Isiolo County. When she was 16, her mother passed on, and she watched with great trepidation as her father planned to marry another wife, not sure what that would mean for her or her ambitions for school. As it turned out, fate was on her side. When her father uncharacteristically asked what she thought of his plans, Jane seized the opportunity to stand up for herself and interests: