Human rights defender of the Month (May 2019): Abdul Aziz Muhamat

Abdul Aziz Muhamat

The Sudanese refugee activist and aspiring lawyer, Abdul Aziz Muhamat, was detained by the Australian authorities at Manus Island (Papua New Guinea), under inhumane and unsafe conditions, for six years. While trapped in limbo, Aziz continued to fight for the rights of the about 600 men trapped at the island. His human rights commitment led him to win this years’ Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.

As a student activist in Sudan, Aziz was forced to flee as his personal safety was at risk. He fled to Indonesia, then boarded a boat to Australia to seek safety, before being forcibly transferred to Manus Island in October 2013 – Australia’s much contested “offshore immigration center”.

“I have seen friends die before my eyes, due to the treatment given at Manus Island, and I could not sit around and watch as the Australian government destroyed the hope and life of these good men.”

At Manus Island, people are narrowed down to numbers; Aziz became QNK002. “The dehumanisation and punishment at the island is a part of Australia’s strategy to hide their human rights violations from the world,” Aziz tells DefendDefenders.

Australia’s immigration policy has received much criticism for its inhumane conditions and treatment of people. The lack of resources, access to medical care, and decent food, followed by a high depression and suicide rate, has been condemned by several human rights organisations. “I have seen friends die before my eyes, due to the treatment given at Manus Island, and I could not sit around and watch as the Australian government destroyed the hope and life of these good men,” he says.

“I’ll keep resisting until one day we’re all free.”

Despite the harsh conditions and isolated location, as well as the risk associated with speaking up about right abuses, Aziz continued to protest. A defining moment was when he got hold of a phone, which enabled him to communicate and mobilize the human rights violations taking place, through social media channels and podcasts, stressing that “the phone saved my life. 

At the island, Aziz is going under the nickname Mandela, illustrating his dedication to the well-being and rights of his friends, as he aims to maintain their hope for a better future.

Through the Martin Ennals Award, he was granted to leave to island to attend the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, where he met with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN mechanisms, and several human rights organisations, including DefendDefenders – with the key message being; “I’ll keep resisting until one day we’re all free.”

In June 2019, Aziz was granted asylum in Switzerland.

See more HRDs of the Month

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Ana Taban

Ana Taban, which means ‘I am Tired’ in Arabic, was established in 2016 in Nairobi, Kenya out of frustration of South Sudanese artists with several issues related to the civil war in the country. This was after another conflict broke out at the Presidential Palace in Juba a few months after the signing of a peace deal.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Jaqueline Mutere

Jaqueline Mutere’s motivation to establish Grace Agenda was a response to the post-election sexual violence of 2007 and 2008 in Kenya. Additionally, as a survivor of sexual violence which resulted into conception of a child, and following the experience of other survivors, Jaqueline identified the need to form an organisation that advocates for reparations for survivors of sexual violence.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Ocen Ivan Kenneth

Ocen Ivan Kenneth is a Program Director at Foundation for Development and Relief Africa (FIDRA), with more than 10 years’ experience working in the human rights field. Ivan’s ambitions for change focus on building inner peace, defending human rights and empowering local communities using theatre and storytelling. He creates a space where people from the community share their personal stories of trauma and resilience as well as identify mechanisms of healing.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Sandra Aceng

Sandra Aceng is an outspoken and energetic woman human rights defender (WHRD). She is a gender and ICT researcher and policy analyst for Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) where she coordinates the Women ICT Advocacy Group, advocating for internet access for all. In addition, she writes on various platforms such as Global Voices, Freedom House, and Impakter Magazine. Her regular contributions to Wikimedia Uganda often focus on profiling WHRDs, female politicians, and journalists.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Chantal Mutamuriza

Chantal Mutamuriza does not wait for problems to be solved. When the Burundian woman human rights defender (WHRD) encounters a problem, she will seek a solution there and then. When hundreds of thousands Burundians had to flee from political unrest in 2015, many of them were stranded in refugee camps with little economic opportunity or access to education. In her problem-solving spirit, Chantal felt compelled to act: she quit her job to put her skills and network to use and founded the NGO Light For All.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Foni Joyce

Foni Joyce has engaged in humanitarian work since the age of 20, when she joined a refugee student organisation to amplify the voices of refugees. Originally from South Sudan, Foni grew up as a refugee in Nairobi, Kenya, but she makes it clear that ‘refugee’ is merely a legal definition: “I firstly define myself as a human being who has been uprooted.”

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Meskerem  Geset Techane

Meskerem Geset Techane has fought injustice since she can remember: as a child she was known to stand up for herself and others, whether against bullies, teachers, her parents or church. Fighting injustice and promoting human rights is a common theme in the lawyer’s life. “It’s a passion, promoting human rights is not something you choose to do for a living or as a career opportunity. It’s more of a calling for me.”

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