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, teachersher 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.”  

A calling that has led Meskerem to impressive places. In Ethiopia, she served as a High Court Judge, worked as a pro-bono lawyer, and founded or spearheaded several civil society initiatives, most recently Lawyers for Human Rights and TIMRAN (She Leads). At the African level, she worked with African Union human rights bodies and African human rights lawyers. She initiated a continent-wide effort on human rights lawyering and strategic litigation. Meskerem is also active at the international level: she is currently a UN Human Rights Council’s distinguished Rapporteur mandate holder appointed with a global mandate in the UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls. Meskerem does it all: not only does she simultaneously work on the national, African, and international level, she also works on a multitude of human rights topics. The rights of women and children and their intersectionality with various topics have become a red thread in her work. 

Any opportunity to discredit me is used. When I assert my leadership and demand excellence, men complain that I’m insulting them. They would never say that to the other men in their ‘boy’s club.’ It’s very subtle, but it’s bullying and intimidation attempting to discredit me. Many women human rights defenders face such experiences.

Working in a male-dominated environment, Meskerem is often the only woman in many of the high-level discussions she attends – whether in Addis Ababa, Banjul, or Geneva. Like so many women, she has had to face misogyny: “Any opportunity to discredit me is used. When I assert my leadership and demand excellence, men complain that I’m insulting them. They would never say that to the other men in their ‘boy’s club.’ It’s very subtle, but it’s bullying and intimidation attempting to discredit me. Many women human rights defenders face such experiences.” 

Meskerem finds it particularly disheartening to see this happening within the human rights field: “I like to do value based human rights work where rule of law and accountability begins with us – the HRDs. How can I assert myself as a defender if I don’t live by the values I defend? Human rights need to become our personal values. Accountability starts with us. We can’t ask states for accountability, if we’re not accountable ourselves. We need this integrity as HRDs: we have to do value-based work, value-based advocacy, value-based lawyering to achieve a sustainable culture of human rights.” 

I like to do value based human rights work where rule of law and accountability begins with us – the HRDs. How can I assert myself as a defender if I don’t live by the values I defend? Human rights need to become our personal values. Accountability starts with us. We can’t ask states for accountability, if we’re not accountable ourselves. We need this integrity as HRDs: we have to do value-based work, value-based advocacy, value-based lawyering to achieve a sustainable culture of human rights.

Dealing with human rights violations from around the globe on a daily basis takes its toll on Meskerem. Not only does she take injustice very seriously, she also takes it personally, causing pain and anger. But sometimes it is exactly this anger that energises Meskerem and motivates her to continue. Seeing how other HRDs are silenced and repressed encourages her to use her platform to promote human rights for as long as she can. Her main demand from national, regional, and international actors is to strengthen protective and supportive systems for HRDs – their contribution to society’s collective well-being and safety needs to be respected and protected. 

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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