Human Rights Defender of the Month (June 2019): Beatrice Githinji

Beatrice Githinji is a Kenyan human rights defender (HRD) and peace ambassador, advocating for land rights. Her dedication to land rights is based on the historical injustices faced by many local communities, where land grabbing is a major, long-standing concern. “Many HRDs are losing their lives over land rights issues,” Githinji stresses. “Land is the main economic resource of people living in rural areas, and if you do not address the issues related to land rights, the chances of solving injustices are scarce.” 

Her outstanding human rights work over the past ten years has given her international recognition, as she received the ‘Ambassadors Peace Award 2017’ by the Integrated Initiatives Community Empowerment Programs (IICEP), and the ‘Women Peace Award 2018’ by Women’s Peacepower Foundation.

As a woman HRD, Githinji has faced personal injustices and reprisals. “When I started to work as a land rights defender, it was very hard for me – especially as I am a woman, and all the injustice that is attached to that.”  

In the colonial era, people were forced to leave their land, and “after independence, the government promised to give back the land that was taken away from people before, however that did not happen,” she points out. Further, she states that transformation needs to come from within: “international support is good, but changes to Kenyan policies and norms need to come from Kenya.”

In 2012, Githinji founded the Starehe Arts and Cultural Centre (SACC), a community-based organisation (CBO) aimed at empowering youths in the field of arts and creativity. Through SACC, which is a member of Grassroot Women Network, her vision is to contribute to people living in impoverished Kenyan communities, and enable them to sustain themselves by teaching and nurturing their skills. 

“What keeps me going is the hope that there will be change. We are all part of change, and […] the small efforts that we do at the community level is what will bring that change. The community teamwork will bring the change.”

See more HRDs of the Month

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.”

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Karis Moses Oteba

Karis Moses Oteba is DefendDefenders’ Protection Officer and Well-being Lead, promoting self-care and effective stress management amongst human rights defenders. He started defending human rights at the early age of 11, as a member of the children’s parliament, convened to listen to the views of children concerning Uganda’s 1997 Children’s Act.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Vanessa Tsehaye

Vanessa Tsehaye started her work as a human rights defender at an early age: at 16, she founded a high school group in support of imprisoned Eritrean journalist Seyoum Tsehaye. Seven years later, the same diaspora organisation, One Day Seyoum, is one of Eritrea’s leading human rights organisations – spear-headed by the now 23-year old Vanessa.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Edmund Yakani

Edmund Yakani is one of South Sudan’s most prominent human rights defenders (HRDs). The Civil Rights Defender of the Year 2017 has worked on an array of topics – the rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs), transitional justice, and the protection of HRDs in cooperation with DefendDefenders – that are all connected by the common thread of human rights promotion and protection.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Onyango Owor

In March 2020, Uganda’s Constitutional Court nullified the Public Order Management Act, 2013, a law that made arbitrary restrictions on freedom of assembly possible. One of the people behind the successful petition of POMA is Onyango Owor, a Ugandan lawyer with 15 years of experience in representing human rights defenders.

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