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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: Apollo Mukasa

Apollo Mukasa’s journey into activism is deeply rooted in his commitment to advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities (PWDs). As the Executive Director of Uganda National Action on Physical Disability (UNAPD), Apollo is a driving force behind initiatives aimed at combating discrimination among PWDs. UNAPD was established in 1998 as a platform for voicing concerns of persons with physical disabilities to realise a barrier free environment where they can enjoy their rights to the fullest.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Leon Ntakiyiruta

As a child, Leon wanted to be a magistrate – whom he saw as agents of justice. Born in 1983 in Burundi’s Southern province, he came of age at a time of great social and political upheaval in the East African country. In 1993 when Leon was barely 10, Burundi was besieged by a civil war that would last for the next 12 years until 2005, characterized by indiscriminate violence and gross human rights abuses in which over 300,000 people are estimated to have died.In 2012, still struggling to find her footing in Kampala, Aida was introduced to DefendDefenders, where she was introduced to the organisation’s resource center, and assured, it (the center) would be at her disposal whenever she needed to use it.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Aida Musa

In August 2011, Aida crossed into Uganda, pregnant, and barely able to communicate in another language other than Arabic. The transition was a difficult one, she says: “It was my first-time outside Sudan, and yet I did not know any other language. The first months were very difficult.”
In 2012, still struggling to find her footing in Kampala, Aida was introduced to DefendDefenders, where she was introduced to the organisation’s resource center, and assured, it (the center) would be at her disposal whenever she needed to use it.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Pamela Angwench Judith

For most of her life, Pamela Angwech’s existence has always been a defiant and simultaneous act of survival and resistance. In 1976 when she was born, the anti-Amin movement was gathering pace, and her family was one of the earliest victims of the then dictatorship’s reprisals in Northern Uganda. Her father, a passionate educationist in Kitgum district was one of the most vocal critics of the dictatorship’s human rights excesses, which made him an obvious target of the state’s marauding vigilantes.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Joseph Oleshangay

As a human rights lawyer and advocate with the High Court of the United Republic of Tanzania, Joseph Moses Oleshangay spends most of his time crossing from one court to another, litigating human rights cases, some with life-altering implications for ordinary people. It is a monumental responsibility, one he never envisaged growing up.

As a young boy born into a Maasai household in northern Tanzania, his entire childhood revolved around cattle: “Our entire livelihood revolved around cattle. As a child, the main preoccupation was to tend to cows, and my formative years were spent grazing cattle around Endulen. It a simple lifestyle,” he says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Julia Onyoti

The situation of South Sudan’s women and girls remains one of those enduring blights on the country’s conscience. The country retains the unenviable reputation of having the world’s highest maternal mortality rate, and at 51.5%, one of the highest cases of child marriages. It is even worse with gender-based violence(GBV): A 2019 study by UNICEF found that one in every two South Sudan women have experienced intimate partner violence, while a recent UN study, alarmed at the widespread nature of conflict-related sexual violence in the country, in which women are tread as “spoils of war” described it as “a hellish existence for women and girls.

Human Rights Defender of the month:SHIMA BHARE

Shima Bhare Abdalla has never known the luxury and comfort of a stable and safe existence inside her country’s borders. When she was 11, her village was attacked and razed to the ground, sending her family and entire neighborhood scattering into an internally displaced People’s Camp, at the start of the Darfur civil war.

That was in 2002. Shima and her family relocated into Kalma refugee camp in Southern Darfur, where, alongside over 100,000 other displaced persons, they had to forge out a living, under the watch and benevolence of the United Nations – African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur, known as UNAMID. It is here that Shima’s human rights consciousness came to life. She enthusiastically embraced whatever little education she could access under the auspices of the humanitarian agencies operating in the camp, to be able to tell the story of her people’s plight.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Martial Pa’nucci

Martial Pa’nucci is a child of what is fondly known as Africa’s second liberation. In 1990 when he was born, the Republic of Congo, like many other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, was undergoing a transition from one-party rule to multi-party democracy, following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Yet developments in ordinary people’s lives were not as optimistic. Pa’nucci was born in one of Brazzaville’s ghettos to a polygamous family of two mothers and 19 siblings, where survival was a daily exercise in courage. When he was two, his father died, followed in quick succession by many of his siblings. Pa’nucci did not start school until he was nine, and he had to do odd jobs – from barbering to plumbing to earn his stay there, lest he dropped out like many of his peers.

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