Human Rights Defender of the Month: Mariam Nakibuuka

On 26th July 2021, Mariam Nakibuuka, 35, breathed her last at Uganda’s Kampala hospital, succumbing to the rampaging Covid-19 pandemic. Mariam joined DefendDefenders as an intern in 2015, and rose through the ranks from being a fellow, to a Protection Assistant, and finally to a Senior Protection Associate, at the time of her death. 

“She was a dedicated and committed employee and human rights defender, who worked tirelessly to ensure that human rights defenders at risk received the support needed to continue their work. She will be remembered for her passion for human rights, care for the safety and wellbeing of both her colleagues and human rights defenders,"

Hassan Shire, Executive Director, DefendDefenders. Tweet

In the security and protection management department where she worked, Mariam was a valued member of the team, distinguishing herself with boundless energy and enthusiasm for her work.  

“She was passionate about human rights, about making the world a better place for all human beings. She did what she did not because she studied about it – even when she had studied law at university, or because it was a job, but because the passion for justice was something ingrained in her. Watching her go about her work, you got a sense that this was something she believed in, and that in DefendDefenders, she had gotten the perfect platform to release her energy and passion,”

Tabitha Netuwa, Security and Protection Manager, DefendDefenders. Tweet

In 2019, Mariam helped relocate a Burundian WHRD who stood up for women rights and purposed to document human rights violations against women in the wake of the 2015 political violence in Burundi. In the process, the WHRD, also a victim of sexual violence, lost her husband to the ensuing violence. Mariam tirelessly coordinated the relocation of the WHRD and her five children to Uganda in a manner that bore the hallmarks of her dedication.

“The WHRD was deeply traumatized and needed psychosocial support. Mariam helped her access this support, and in a very short time, she was able to win her and her children’s trust and confidence with an ease that reflected both her sensitivity and unique ability to connect with the suffering of others,”

At DefendDefenders, Mariam helped invigorate the work of the protection and security management Department by mainstreaming the use of the database and customizing it to meet the different functions of the department. She also took lead on emergency grants’ programming, which enabled the department to swiftly come to the rescue of several HRDs in our focus countries whenever they needed our aid.

One of our partners from South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network (SSHRDN), John Ador Akoy, remembered Mariam as “A hardworking, friendly, and thoughtful advocate for human dignity, who was also full of empathy.” “She was destined to make the world a better place,” he noted.

She hoped to become a leading figure in the human rights field globally, using her law training to carryout extensive research in the field of human rights.

DefendDefenders honours Mariam’s memory and celebrates her short, but impactful life lived in service of others. She is posthumously recognised as the HRD of the month for July 2021. 

See more HRDs of the Month

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.