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: Kasale Maleton Mwaana

Kasale’s human rights activism precedes his years. The son of pastoralist parents from Ngorongoro district in northern Tanzania, he grew up seeing his parents and entire community having to defend their land and way of life against authorities who thought their lands could be put to better use. Now, at 25, Kasale is already one of the most recognizable advocates of his people’s cause, much to the ire of Tanzanian authorities.
“Our people’s struggle goes back many generations. It started with the pushing out of our forefathers from Serengeti to gazette Serengeti National Park in 1959, and then further evictions from the Ngorongoro crater to gazette the Ngorongoro conservation area in 1975. Since then, every generation has had to resist further evictions. It’s now my generation’s turn,” he says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Pierre Claver Mbonimpa

Arguably no single individual personifies Burundi’s human rights struggle like Pierre Claver Mbonimpa. Born 72 years ago in the small East African country, Claver’s quest for human rights and justice is as old as his country’s modern history.

When his country was plunged into a civil war that killed an estimated 300,000 people following the 1993 assassination of President Cyprien Ntaryamira, Claver was one of its earliest victims. Then a close confidant (he was also a former driver) of the assassinated President, he was framed, and arrested, and would go on to spend the next two years between 1994 and 1996 in jail.

It is in prison that the ulcer of injustice bit him hard. There, he met inmates who had either been wrongfully imprisoned or who had been remanded for long periods without trial, all living in dehumanising conditions. “I was strongly revolted by the injustice. Here were probably innocent people whose years were being wasted away by an unfair judicial system, with no one to stand up for them. I swore that I would try to do something about it once I got out myself,” he says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Kamau Ngugi

On October 7, 2022, Kamau Ngugi was elected Chairperson of the East and Horn of Africa human rights defenders’ network (EHAHRD-net), a stirring affirmation for the Kenyan human rights defender’s efforts in defense of human rights that go back nearly 30 years.

But it was not always this promising for her. Born 37 years ago in Grand Kru, Southeastern Liberia, Margaret had to do with a childhood of abuse, neglect, and want, after her, her sibling and her mother were abandoned by their father at an early age.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Margaret Muna Nigba

A human rights lawyer per excellence, Margaret is also an indefatigable woman human rights defender (WHRD) who has won the adulation of millions in her country for her impassioned dedication to defending the rights of women and girls in her native Liberia.

But it was not always this promising for her. Born 37 years ago in Grand Kru, Southeastern Liberia, Margaret had to do with a childhood of abuse, neglect, and want, after her, her sibling and her mother were abandoned by their father at an early age.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Mohammed Adam Hassan

Mohammed Hassan has known mostly conflict, displacement, and war all his adult life. As part of Sudan’s black population in the country’s region of Darfur, they were for long the victims of oppression by Khartoum, then under now deposed dictator Omar Bashir. Then, in 2003, when Mohammed was 19, Darfur’s black population decided to fight back. Two rebel movements – Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement launched a rebellion against Bashir’s government, seeking justice for Darfur’s non-Arab population. The response by Khartoum was chilling: Bashir’s forces launched a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the region’s non-Arab population, and thousands of families were displaced and herded into refugee camps.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Issah Musundi

At first encounter, Issah Musundi is a coy, if not shy, mostly reserved lad. But behind that quiet disposition is a steely character and an enforced existence.
Born 27 years ago in Kenya’s border district of Busia, Issah belongs to Kenya’s sexual minorities community, who have had to win majority rights that other Kenyans take for granted.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Agather Atuhaire

In late May this year, Agather Atuhaire, via her twitter account, broke the story that the Parliament of Uganda had spent a whopping Shs. 2.8billion to purchase two luxury vehicles for the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker.

Aside from the fact that the expenditure was unnecessary – both the Speaker and her Deputy already have two luxury vehicles for their official duties, the purchase flouted all public procurement procedures, and when Parliament’s contracts committee could not approve the procurement, the members of the committee were fired and new ones immediately appointed to approve the purchase.

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.

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