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: 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.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Omot Agwa Okwoy

In Ethiopia, land grabbing and villagisation has resulted in severe human rights abuses, however, being vocal about these abuses can be extremely risky. Omot Agwa Okwoy, our human rights defender of the month for December 2019, has fought for land rights and the rights of indigenous people in the Gambella region in Ethiopia for almost 20 years – leaving him with visible and invisible scars.

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