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 (HRDs). 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.

Within DefendDefenders’ protection department, we often encounter anger outbursts, owing to the desperate situations HRDs face. In the beginning I would argue back and forth with them, but I have learned to stay calm, and appreciate where they are coming from,” Karis tells us. While HRDs are particularly at-risk for mental health issues, they rarely get specialised help. Karis estimates that most HRDs seeking DefendDefenders’ protection, suffer from some underlying well-being issue, due to the nature of their work.

Within DefendDefenders’ protection department, we often encounter anger outbursts, owing to the desperate situations HRDs face. In the beginning I would argue back and forth with them, but I have learned to stay calm, and appreciate where they are coming from.

Karis knows how mentally difficult human rights work can be. Before joining DefendDefenders, he provided psycho-social support to former child soldiers in post-conflict Northern Uganda. Working with traumatised populations can take its toll: “I’ve found myself in places where I am so pained and feeling a lot of frustration, because of the injustice, the violations, and the abuses that I come face to face with, it pushes me to tears.” And HRDs do not only encounter difficulties at work, in fact their work often takes a toll on their private lives, as Karis can attest: “I love to sing, I am a musical artist. But I got thrown out of a church band, because my viewpoints contradicted what most people in the band felt.”

To deal with these experiences, Karis has learnt to prioritise self-care and he wants to share this knowledge with other HRDs. To be better equipped, Karis decided to study psychology alongside his work with DefendDefenders. This gives him a unique vantage point, understanding both the struggles of HRDs as well as psychological foundations of well-being and self-care. His main advice to HRDs is not to be ashamed to seek help: “caring about others means taking care of yourself, because you can only be helpful when you are alive and well. Seeking psycho-social support does not make one less than who they really are, rather it is the mark of strength and courage.”

Caring about others means taking care of yourself, because you can only be helpful when you are alive and well. Seeking psycho-social support does not make one less than who they really are, rather it is the mark of strength and courage.

For more on self-care, take a look at our content on HRD mental well-being from June and stay tuned for more resources going online in the coming weeks.

See more HRDs of the Month

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.

“I grew up in a society where ageism and sexism were so entrenched. As a young person, you weren’t supposed to give your opinion on public issues, especially if you were a woman. Women who dared to speak up were caricatured and branded as frustrated, unmarriageable prostitutes, all designed to shut them up,” she says.

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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