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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.

 

Mohammed’s family was one of those displaced from their home, into Kalma refugee camp in South Darfur, where other nearly 90,000 people relocated for shelter from the violence. Removed from orderly living and unable to attend school many youths including Mohammed grew increasingly restless and agitated against the status quo, and when an aid worker in the camp was killed under unclear circumstances, Mohammed and 150 other youth were rounded up and charged with the crime. They would be released a month later, after the intervention of Amnesty international.  By the time Mohammed was released, he had developed such an avid revulsion to injustice, he decided he would henceforth become a human rights defender:

“I was convinced that such a hopeless situation for many of us and our families was unsustainable. I decided that I would pursue all legitimate means necessary to end the injustices and all the accompanying human rights violations against our people in Darfur so that our people could go back to lead their lives in peace,” he says

As a first step, Mohammed decided to start exposing human rights violations by military authorities, using his social media pages. In 2016, he was part of a long-ranging investigation by Amnesty International of human rights violations in Darfur, including the use of chemical weapons in Darfur’s Jabel Marra province. After the report was released, Sudanese intelligence authorities tracked him down with the intention of arresting him, prompting him to flee.

 

The following year, after months on the run, he contacted DefendDefenders for evacuation as an at-risk HRD. After initial complications following red alerts issued against his name at airports and borders of Sudan, Mohammed finally made it out of Sudan to Uganda, and was received by DefendDefenders who gave him a desk from which to work, a laptop, and access to unlimited internet.

“DefendDefenders really gave me an opportunity to repurpose my life when everything around me had ground to a halt. Hassan (DefendDefenders Executive Director) particularly put DefendDefenders resources at my disposal so that I could continue my activism even when I was in exile, and for that, I am eternally grateful to him and to DefendDefenders,” he says.

Mohammed would remain housed by DefendDefenders for the next four years, during which he was able to enrol at the Kampala-based International University of East Africa and complete his bachelor’s degree in Law, which he had abandoned when he was forced to flee from Sudan. Facilitated to resume his human rights work, Mohammed also used his time at DefendDefenders to set up and register Darfur Network Monitoring and Documentation as a human rights NGO, through which he continued to monitor human rights developments in Darfur.

“I was able to reactivate my contacts in all Darfur’s five states through whom I would be provided routine briefings on human rights developments on the ground. DefendDefenders offered to fly some of these contacts to Kampala, where they trained them in monitoring, documentation and reporting, which progressively improved the quality of our work,” he says.

Today, Mohammed has been able to rent new office premises in Kampala, which currently house the Darfur Network for Monitoring and Documentation, at which he employs five fulltime staff.  His network of human rights monitors in Darfur has also since increased to 25, prompting the organisation to expand its focus from just Darfur to South Kordofan and the Nuba mountains.   

The Darfur Network for Monitoring and Documentation is now a member of the South Sudan Human Rights Coalition launched in Kampala this year. Last year, its work and reports were part of evidence tabled by the international criminal Court (ICC) in its prosecution of Ali Kushayb, a notorious Janjaweed commander who was in 2007 indicted by the ICC for war crimes in Darfur.   

He insists credit must go to DefendDefenders. “Without DefendDefenders, I would not be here. There would be no Darfur Network for Monitoring and Documentation. Hassan in particular, has been a trailblazing leader in the human rights sphere, and I wish that other human rights organisations can be as dedicated as he is,” he says.  

See more HRDs of the Month

Human Rights Defender of the month: Apollo Mukasa

Apollo Mukasa’s journey into activism is deeply rooted in his commitment to advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities (PWDs). As the Executive Director of Uganda National Action on Physical Disability (UNAPD), Apollo is a driving force behind initiatives aimed at combating discrimination among PWDs. UNAPD was established in 1998 as a platform for voicing concerns of persons with physical disabilities to realise a barrier free environment where they can enjoy their rights to the fullest.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Leon Ntakiyiruta

As a child, Leon wanted to be a magistrate – whom he saw as agents of justice. Born in 1983 in Burundi’s Southern province, he came of age at a time of great social and political upheaval in the East African country. In 1993 when Leon was barely 10, Burundi was besieged by a civil war that would last for the next 12 years until 2005, characterized by indiscriminate violence and gross human rights abuses in which over 300,000 people are estimated to have died.In 2012, still struggling to find her footing in Kampala, Aida was introduced to DefendDefenders, where she was introduced to the organisation’s resource center, and assured, it (the center) would be at her disposal whenever she needed to use it.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Aida Musa

In August 2011, Aida crossed into Uganda, pregnant, and barely able to communicate in another language other than Arabic. The transition was a difficult one, she says: “It was my first-time outside Sudan, and yet I did not know any other language. The first months were very difficult.”
In 2012, still struggling to find her footing in Kampala, Aida was introduced to DefendDefenders, where she was introduced to the organisation’s resource center, and assured, it (the center) would be at her disposal whenever she needed to use it.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Pamela Angwench Judith

For most of her life, Pamela Angwech’s existence has always been a defiant and simultaneous act of survival and resistance. In 1976 when she was born, the anti-Amin movement was gathering pace, and her family was one of the earliest victims of the then dictatorship’s reprisals in Northern Uganda. Her father, a passionate educationist in Kitgum district was one of the most vocal critics of the dictatorship’s human rights excesses, which made him an obvious target of the state’s marauding vigilantes.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Joseph Oleshangay

As a human rights lawyer and advocate with the High Court of the United Republic of Tanzania, Joseph Moses Oleshangay spends most of his time crossing from one court to another, litigating human rights cases, some with life-altering implications for ordinary people. It is a monumental responsibility, one he never envisaged growing up.

As a young boy born into a Maasai household in northern Tanzania, his entire childhood revolved around cattle: “Our entire livelihood revolved around cattle. As a child, the main preoccupation was to tend to cows, and my formative years were spent grazing cattle around Endulen. It a simple lifestyle,” he says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Julia Onyoti

The situation of South Sudan’s women and girls remains one of those enduring blights on the country’s conscience. The country retains the unenviable reputation of having the world’s highest maternal mortality rate, and at 51.5%, one of the highest cases of child marriages. It is even worse with gender-based violence(GBV): A 2019 study by UNICEF found that one in every two South Sudan women have experienced intimate partner violence, while a recent UN study, alarmed at the widespread nature of conflict-related sexual violence in the country, in which women are tread as “spoils of war” described it as “a hellish existence for women and girls.

Human Rights Defender of the month:SHIMA BHARE

Shima Bhare Abdalla has never known the luxury and comfort of a stable and safe existence inside her country’s borders. When she was 11, her village was attacked and razed to the ground, sending her family and entire neighborhood scattering into an internally displaced People’s Camp, at the start of the Darfur civil war.

That was in 2002. Shima and her family relocated into Kalma refugee camp in Southern Darfur, where, alongside over 100,000 other displaced persons, they had to forge out a living, under the watch and benevolence of the United Nations – African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur, known as UNAMID. It is here that Shima’s human rights consciousness came to life. She enthusiastically embraced whatever little education she could access under the auspices of the humanitarian agencies operating in the camp, to be able to tell the story of her people’s plight.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Martial Pa’nucci

Martial Pa’nucci is a child of what is fondly known as Africa’s second liberation. In 1990 when he was born, the Republic of Congo, like many other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, was undergoing a transition from one-party rule to multi-party democracy, following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Yet developments in ordinary people’s lives were not as optimistic. Pa’nucci was born in one of Brazzaville’s ghettos to a polygamous family of two mothers and 19 siblings, where survival was a daily exercise in courage. When he was two, his father died, followed in quick succession by many of his siblings. Pa’nucci did not start school until he was nine, and he had to do odd jobs – from barbering to plumbing to earn his stay there, lest he dropped out like many of his peers.

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