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: 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.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Godfrey Kagaayi

Born 33 years ago, in Bukoba, northern Tanzania, Godfrey Kagaayi did not have to look elsewhere for inspiration to tackle the daunting challenge of mental health. By his own admission, the family and community in which he was raised were fertile grounds for the same.
His family had crossed the border into Uganda when he was barely 5 months, settling into present day Rakai district. But the Rakai of the 90s was a difficult place for a child to make their earliest memories: In 1990, Uganda’s first ever case of HIV/AIDs was reported in the district, setting off a decade of suffering and anguish for many of its residents. Taking advantage of the Rakai’s fishing and polygamous lifestyle, the novel virus spread like wildfire, killing people in droves and leaving untold heartache in its wake.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Hiader Abdalla Abu Gaid

Hiader Abdalla Abu Gaid is one of the lucky survivors of Sudan’s latest conflict.

He was born 36 years ago, in Almalha locality, North Darfur state, the third born in a family of 10. Then, Darfur was not the hot bed of war and conflict it has since become infamous for. Although the region, predominantly inhabited by Sudan’s black population remained segregated by the predominantly Arab government in Khartoum, its people co-existed in thriving, predominantly subsistence communities. In Almalha, people reared camels and cattle, while others tended crops. The community was also famed for its hospitality to strangers, welcoming outsiders who ended up staying, owning land, and intermarrying with their hosts.

Human Rights Defender of the month:Immaculate Nabwire and Daphne Nakabugo

In personality, Immaculate Nabwire and Daphne Nakabugo could not be more different. Where the former is loud, if free-spirited, and mischievous, the latter is quiet, reticent, and predominantly solitary. Together though, they are the quiet champions behind DefendDefenders’ digital skilling programs, equipping (women) human rights defenders with critically transformative – and sometimes, life-saving digital tools and skills.
“You’ll be surprised how many people out there, including the literate are not exposed to the idea of digital safety. And as technology gets more advanced, it is getting ever more lucrative for hackers and other malign actors, which means that the urgency of the need for digital security skills for everyone cannot be over-stated,” says Daphne.

Human Rights Defender of the month:Mary Pais Da Silva

On 17 February 2023, in Ethiopia’s rustic resort of Bishoftu, more than 5000Km from her homeland, Mary Da Silva was announced winner of the 2023 AfricanDefenders Shield Award, in the presence of hundreds of colleague human rights defenders from 36 African countries. It was a fitting validation for the Eswatini human rights lawyer, whose sense of empathy and sensitivity to injustice has been a defining hallmark of her career.
Born 45 years ago in Lubombo, eastern Eswatini, the last of 4 siblings, Mary attributes her values to her upbringing. Although she was born in Eswatini, her parents are originally from Mozambique, and only relocated to eSwatini at the start of the Mozambican civil war that lasted between 1977-1992, which ravaged families and displaced many others.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Jane Naini Meriwas

Like many African societies, The Samburu community in Northern Kenya is a gerontocracy – a very hierarchical community in which elders hold sway over almost all private and public matters. Among these predominantly pastoral nomads, very little importance is attached to the young – especially young girls, who are barely given a chance at education and often married off before their first menstrual cycle, but not before they undergo mandatory Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
It is in this community that Jane Naini Meriwas was born 46 years ago, in Kipsing village, Oldonyiro Subcounty, Isiolo County. When she was 16, her mother passed on, and she watched with great trepidation as her father planned to marry another wife, not sure what that would mean for her or her ambitions for school. As it turned out, fate was on her side. When her father uncharacteristically asked what she thought of his plans, Jane seized the opportunity to stand up for herself and interests: