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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: 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.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Veronica Almedom

Veronica Almedom is a poster child of successful immigration. A duo Eritrean and Swiss citizen, she was born in Italy, and grew up in Switzerland where she permanently resides. Her parents are some of the earliest victims of Eritrea’s cycles of violence. When Eritrea’s war of independence peaked in the early 1980s, they escaped the country as unaccompanied minors, wandering through Sudan, Saudi Arabia, before making the hazard journey across the Mediterranean into Europe. There, they crossed first to Italy, and finally, to Switzerland, where they settled first as refugees, and later, as permanent residents.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Omar Faruk Osman

Omar Faruk’s career, and the passion that drove it, were the product of his circumstances. He was born in 1976, in the first of strong man Mohamed Siad Barre’s two-decade rule over Somalia, which was characterized by gross rights abuses and barely existent civic space. He came of age in the 90s when those abuses and rights violations were peaking, as his country was engulfed by a ruinous civil war following the collapse of the Siad Barre dictatorship.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Rita Kahsay

When the Ethiopian Federal Government representatives and those of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) signed a peace agreement in Pretoria, in November last year, the two parties were hailed for ending arguably the deadliest conflict of the 21st century, in which over 600,000 people had died.
But long before the negotiators for peace got around to an agreement, there were many other unsung heroes, who, through individual and collective efforts helped sustain the world’s gaze on the dire situation in Tigray, despite the Ethiopian Government’s determined efforts to hush it up.

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