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: Sandra Aceng

Sandra Aceng is an outspoken and energetic woman human rights defender (WHRD). She is a gender and ICT researcher and policy analyst for Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) where she coordinates the Women ICT Advocacy Group, advocating for internet access for all. In addition, she writes on various platforms such as Global Voices, Freedom House, and Impakter Magazine. Her regular contributions to Wikimedia Uganda often focus on profiling WHRDs, female politicians, and journalists.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Chantal Mutamuriza

Chantal Mutamuriza does not wait for problems to be solved. When the Burundian woman human rights defender (WHRD) encounters a problem, she will seek a solution there and then. When hundreds of thousands Burundians had to flee from political unrest in 2015, many of them were stranded in refugee camps with little economic opportunity or access to education. In her problem-solving spirit, Chantal felt compelled to act: she quit her job to put her skills and network to use and founded the NGO Light For All.

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.”

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Meskerem  Geset Techane

Meskerem Geset Techane has fought injustice since she can remember: as a child she was known to stand up for herself and others, whether against bullies, teachers, her parents or church. Fighting injustice and promoting human rights is a common theme in the lawyer’s life. “It’s a passion, promoting human rights is not something you choose to do for a living or as a career opportunity. It’s more of a calling for me.”

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Andrew Gole

Andrew Gole’s journey to become a human rights defender (HRD) was sparked by a small request: in 2015, a human rights organisation reached out to the trained software engineer about a digital security training. “I didn’t know much about the HRD eco-system or about digital security as an environment on its own,” Andrew says. “So, I did some research, and realised digital security support is just the basic support I used to provide in an internet café.”

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Onesmo Olengurumwa

Protecting human rights is Onesmo Olengurumwa’s passion. When his secondary school lacked access to water and was threatened with closure, Onesmo successfully rallied his fellow students together and protested for their right to education. While at university, he was the human rights association’s president. Becoming a human rights defender was not really a conscious choice, but just the natural course of Onesmo’s life.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Malab Alneel

Malab Alneel was only 20 when Sudan’s revolution started in December 2018, but she knew it was the moment to get involved: “I grew up in a house that was very political. All of my sisters are activists, my parents are very involved. Activism has always been there. But for me it started with the revolution. It just felt like a time for change.”

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