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.” 

Malab, who is now 22, is a conceptual artist and activist – an artivist. Her form of activism mostly takes place online and is hard to categorise. She works with various organisations and has several ongoing projects, both online and offline, but a lot of her activism simply consists of posting her views online. Especially older generations are sceptical about this, she says: “It can be risky to express certain ideas so openly, but doing that helped me find a mini community of people who are willing to take the risk in order to see change.

Art from Malab's Instagram account: "Spark a tire, fire up a revolution"

It can be risky to express certain ideas so openly, but doing that helped me find a mini community of people who are willing to take the risk in order to see change.

And Sudanese youth have certainly already achieved immense change. Sudan’s revolution was sparked by high school students protesting the steeply rising bread prices. Soon the whole country joined, with an average protester’s age between 17-23. Youth involvement, which includes anyone below 40 for Malab, had an immense impact on how effectively and strategically social media were used in the revolution. “Everyone went out with their camera ready to film and document everything,” Malab says. “In the beginning there were a couple of videos where you can hear people in the back saying: ‘they’re shooting at us, people are dying, why are you filming?’ But two months later no one was saying that anymore. You could see what effect documentation had: we were creating an online archive of everything that happened.” 

And who would have come up with campaigns like Mattar Blue,” Malab continues, Who would have come up with making profile pictures a way of fighting, if not youth? After the 3 June massacre, social media users worldwide changed their profile pictures to “Mattar blue” in honour of one of the victims, Mohamed Mattar. Protesters constantly came up with new campaigns, new hashtags. For many, Twitter was the most reliable source of information.

I receive hate online, threats, and very gendered backlash. But as a young woman, I am often not taken seriously. I try to be aware of that and actually use it, because I know I have some leeway to play around with. In this specific context, the patriarchy is actually working to my advantage, it’s a rare thing!

Working online creates a lot of visibility, which can manifest in hate speech or threats. Malab knows this all too well: I receive hate online, threats, and very gendered backlash. But as a young woman, I am often not taken seriously. I try to be aware of that and actually use it, because I know I have some leeway to play around with. In this specific context, the patriarchy is actually working to my advantage, it’s a rare thing! Seeing how quickly Sudan is changing and how outspoken her generation is, is what keeps Malab going: “There is a very big possibility for the future to be different. In a few years, these young activists will have more responsibility and a bit more access to power. That will make even bigger change possible.” 

See more HRDs of the Month

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.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Kadar Abdi Ibrahim

Kadar Abdi Ibrahim is an outspoken human rights activist and journalist from Djibouti – a country where journalists are frequently harassed, subjected to government-orchestrated intimidation and reprisals, and prevented from pursuing their work independently. Yet, Kadar continues to use his voice and pen as tools to promote justice.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Aluel Atem

Aluel Atem is an ambitious woman activist from South Sudan who plays a vital role in the promotion of women’s rights in the country. However, life as an outspoken feminist in a patriarchal country is not a walk in the park. “It’s not only about being a female, but a young female. You get undermined for being a woman in all-man spaces, and for being young in older spaces,” Aluel explains.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Faiza Abdi Mohamed

The Somali activist Faiza Abdi Mohamed has promoted human rights in her home country for a decade, which has made her a target of verbal abuse, threats, and arbitrary arrest, forcing her to flee Somalia and seek exile in Uganda. Yet, she remains extremely vocal about human rights violations in her country. “I’ve lost so many of my friends due to cruelties, so I can’t keep quiet,” she says.

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