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: 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.

“I grew up in a society where ageism and sexism were so entrenched. As a young person, you weren’t supposed to give your opinion on public issues, especially if you were a woman. Women who dared to speak up were caricatured and branded as frustrated, unmarriageable prostitutes, all designed to shut them up,” she says.

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.