Human Rights Defender of the Month: Hassan Chichi Dawla

Doubly forced to become a refugee, Hassan Chichi Dawla has mobilized her rough experience into an organization to look out for and support other refugees to live less complicated lives.

Originally from Sudan, in 2011, Dawla was forced to flee her home in the Nuba mountains, after heavy fighting broke out between the Sudan Armed Forces and an offshoot of Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) rebels in Sudan’s Southern state of Kordofarn.

She moved further South into then newly independent South Sudan, only to be forced to flee again two years later in 2013, when rival factions of the SPLA led by President Salva Kiir and First Vice-President Riek Machar turned on each other, ushering in new instability in the country.

This time, she moved to Uganda with her four children, settling in the Kiryandongo refugee settlement in Kiryandongo district.  Dawla says it is this experience that drove her to want to do something about the plight of her fellow refugees, especially women.

“When I came here (in the refugee camp) as a refugee in 2014, I saw many women suffering. They had issues like trauma, fear, and although there were other organisations like the UN supporting them, I felt there was a gap because those organisations lacked a lived experience of these issues. So, I decided I would start an organization to offer support."

She started Kandaakiat for women empowerment as an idea, and eventually registered it as a regional organisation in 2018. Through it, she moves about the refugee settlement sensitizing the refugees about their rights, and with support from UNHCR, has translated the laws relevant to refugees into the dominant languages in the settlement, including Arabic. She also organises workshops in the camp to sensitize women about gender-based violence and sexual reproductive health rights. 

“Many of the challenges refugees face are due to ignorance of their rights and freedoms. So, they live in constant fear of the unknown, and any person can take advantage of that to abuse them. So we try to restore their confidence by making them aware of their rights.”

She adds that she has also been able to successfully link women refugees in need of legal services to UNHCR for legal support, with the organisation eventually offering legal representation for some.

Even then, she says, some challenges persist. She notes that there remains enduring suspicion and hostility towards refugees by host communities, and that any refugee human rights defender must be careful to not overstep their limits in advocacy.

 

“As a refugee, especially if you’re trying to empower others, you will often face harassment and intimidation from local authorities who would like to take advantage of the refugees’ vulnerability and they will be threatening you with arrest or repatriation. That can be a challenge."

As the head of a refugee organization trying to secure funding to expand her work, she says she’s also faced challenges because some banks do not acknowledge refugee papers as valid documents.

But Dawla is unfazed. She says as long as she continues to put a smile on a refugee’s face, she will remain motivated to carry on.

See more HRDs of the Month

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.

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