Human Rights Defender of the Month: Foni Joyce

Foni Joyce has engaged in humanitarian work since the age of 20, when she joined a refugee student organisation to amplify the voices of refugees. Originally from South Sudan, Foni grew up as a refugee in Nairobi, Kenya, but she makes it clear that ‘refugee’ is merely a legal definition: “I firstly define myself as a human being who has been uprooted.” Labelling and numbering creates fear and leads to a loss of interaction, Foni says: “Numbers are useful to show the intensity and impact of a conflict, but when we talk about 70 million refugees, most people think about 70 million people taking up resources or opportunities. We forget that behind every number is a human being. A mother, a father, a brother or sister, whose voice needs to be heard regardless of their status.”

Numbers are useful to show the intensity and impact of a conflict, but when we talk about 70 million refugees, most people think about 70 million people taking up resources or opportunities. We forget that behind every number is a human being. A mother, a father, a brother or sister, whose voice needs to be heard regardless of their status.

Rather than labelling herself a ‘refugee’, Foni decided to define herself through her skills and achievements. And her achievements are quite impressive: from starting local advocacy work in Nairobi, she has ventured to global advocacy, for example at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva. From 2017 to 2020 Foni co-chaired the UNHCR Global Youth Advisory Council, working towards representation, meaningful participation, and leadership of young people in developing solutions for the plight of refugees.

“As a young person, and on top of that as a woman, it can be difficult to participate in projects in a meaningful way, because older generations often don’t take you as seriously. Young people are often used as tokens, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we had an influence. Just because young people were present, doesn’t mean we were listened to,” Foni shares. Lack of meaningful inclusion and participation is generally an issue for refugees, in her experience. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she saw how rapidly local refugee-led organisations responded to changing environments and needs, while many international organisations needed more time to adapt their service delivery to the community. “Giving people the power and dignity to solve their own problems, would really be the best. It is much more sustainable if people really own their solutions, so moving forward post-COVID, we should develop this,” Foni says, aimed at international actors.

Knowing both the grassroots and the international level of humanitarian work, it is sometimes frustrating for Foni to see how slowly change is implemented, especially when she sees members of her community suffering. But it is also what motivates her to continue promoting human rights and holding those in power accountable. She wishes to contribute to a world of dignity, peace, and harmony – a world with respect for human rights – even if she may not benefit from it herself. “This ideal world keeps me going. Not for myself, because I know I cannot personally enjoy it, but really for the people who will be there after us.”

See more HRDs of the Month

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.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Dibabe Bacha

Dibabe Bacha is a trailblazer on many fronts. Visually impaired, but unequivocally impassioned for human rights, she has devoted herself to defending and protecting human rights in her native Ethiopia, especially for women with disabilities.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Mariam Nakibuuka

On 26th July 2021, Mariam Nakibuuka, 35, breathed her last at Uganda’s Kampala hospital, succumbing to the rampaging Covid-19 pandemic. Mariam joined DefendDefenders as an intern in 2015, and rose through the ranks from being a fellow, to a Protection Assistant, and finally to a Senior Protection Associate, at the time of her death.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Ana Taban

Ana Taban, which means ‘I am Tired’ in Arabic, was established in 2016 in Nairobi, Kenya out of frustration of South Sudanese artists with several issues related to the civil war in the country. This was after another conflict broke out at the Presidential Palace in Juba a few months after the signing of a peace deal.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Jaqueline Mutere

Jaqueline Mutere’s motivation to establish Grace Agenda was a response to the post-election sexual violence of 2007 and 2008 in Kenya. Additionally, as a survivor of sexual violence which resulted into conception of a child, and following the experience of other survivors, Jaqueline identified the need to form an organisation that advocates for reparations for survivors of sexual violence.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Ocen Ivan Kenneth

Ocen Ivan Kenneth is a Program Director at Foundation for Development and Relief Africa (FIDRA), with more than 10 years’ experience working in the human rights field. Ivan’s ambitions for change focus on building inner peace, defending human rights and empowering local communities using theatre and storytelling. He creates a space where people from the community share their personal stories of trauma and resilience as well as identify mechanisms of healing.

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