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: Kasale Maleton Mwaana

Kasale’s human rights activism precedes his years. The son of pastoralist parents from Ngorongoro district in northern Tanzania, he grew up seeing his parents and entire community having to defend their land and way of life against authorities who thought their lands could be put to better use. Now, at 25, Kasale is already one of the most recognizable advocates of his people’s cause, much to the ire of Tanzanian authorities.
“Our people’s struggle goes back many generations. It started with the pushing out of our forefathers from Serengeti to gazette Serengeti National Park in 1959, and then further evictions from the Ngorongoro crater to gazette the Ngorongoro conservation area in 1975. Since then, every generation has had to resist further evictions. It’s now my generation’s turn,” he says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Pierre Claver Mbonimpa

Arguably no single individual personifies Burundi’s human rights struggle like Pierre Claver Mbonimpa. Born 72 years ago in the small East African country, Claver’s quest for human rights and justice is as old as his country’s modern history.

When his country was plunged into a civil war that killed an estimated 300,000 people following the 1993 assassination of President Cyprien Ntaryamira, Claver was one of its earliest victims. Then a close confidant (he was also a former driver) of the assassinated President, he was framed, and arrested, and would go on to spend the next two years between 1994 and 1996 in jail.

It is in prison that the ulcer of injustice bit him hard. There, he met inmates who had either been wrongfully imprisoned or who had been remanded for long periods without trial, all living in dehumanising conditions. “I was strongly revolted by the injustice. Here were probably innocent people whose years were being wasted away by an unfair judicial system, with no one to stand up for them. I swore that I would try to do something about it once I got out myself,” he says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Kamau Ngugi

On October 7, 2022, Kamau Ngugi was elected Chairperson of the East and Horn of Africa human rights defenders’ network (EHAHRD-net), a stirring affirmation for the Kenyan human rights defender’s efforts in defense of human rights that go back nearly 30 years.

But it was not always this promising for her. Born 37 years ago in Grand Kru, Southeastern Liberia, Margaret had to do with a childhood of abuse, neglect, and want, after her, her sibling and her mother were abandoned by their father at an early age.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Margaret Muna Nigba

A human rights lawyer per excellence, Margaret is also an indefatigable woman human rights defender (WHRD) who has won the adulation of millions in her country for her impassioned dedication to defending the rights of women and girls in her native Liberia.

But it was not always this promising for her. Born 37 years ago in Grand Kru, Southeastern Liberia, Margaret had to do with a childhood of abuse, neglect, and want, after her, her sibling and her mother were abandoned by their father at an early age.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Mohammed Adam Hassan

Mohammed Hassan has known mostly conflict, displacement, and war all his adult life. As part of Sudan’s black population in the country’s region of Darfur, they were for long the victims of oppression by Khartoum, then under now deposed dictator Omar Bashir. Then, in 2003, when Mohammed was 19, Darfur’s black population decided to fight back. Two rebel movements – Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement launched a rebellion against Bashir’s government, seeking justice for Darfur’s non-Arab population. The response by Khartoum was chilling: Bashir’s forces launched a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the region’s non-Arab population, and thousands of families were displaced and herded into refugee camps.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Issah Musundi

At first encounter, Issah Musundi is a coy, if not shy, mostly reserved lad. But behind that quiet disposition is a steely character and an enforced existence.
Born 27 years ago in Kenya’s border district of Busia, Issah belongs to Kenya’s sexual minorities community, who have had to win majority rights that other Kenyans take for granted.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Agather Atuhaire

In late May this year, Agather Atuhaire, via her twitter account, broke the story that the Parliament of Uganda had spent a whopping Shs. 2.8billion to purchase two luxury vehicles for the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker.

Aside from the fact that the expenditure was unnecessary – both the Speaker and her Deputy already have two luxury vehicles for their official duties, the purchase flouted all public procurement procedures, and when Parliament’s contracts committee could not approve the procurement, the members of the committee were fired and new ones immediately appointed to approve the purchase.

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.

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