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: Hiader Abdalla Abu Gaid

Hiader Abdalla Abu Gaid is one of the lucky survivors of Sudan’s latest conflict.

He was born 36 years ago, in Almalha locality, North Darfur state, the third born in a family of 10. Then, Darfur was not the hot bed of war and conflict it has since become infamous for. Although the region, predominantly inhabited by Sudan’s black population remained segregated by the predominantly Arab government in Khartoum, its people co-existed in thriving, predominantly subsistence communities. In Almalha, people reared camels and cattle, while others tended crops. The community was also famed for its hospitality to strangers, welcoming outsiders who ended up staying, owning land, and intermarrying with their hosts.

Human Rights Defender of the month:Immaculate Nabwire and Daphne Nakabugo

In personality, Immaculate Nabwire and Daphne Nakabugo could not be more different. Where the former is loud, if free-spirited, and mischievous, the latter is quiet, reticent, and predominantly solitary. Together though, they are the quiet champions behind DefendDefenders’ digital skilling programs, equipping (women) human rights defenders with critically transformative – and sometimes, life-saving digital tools and skills.
“You’ll be surprised how many people out there, including the literate are not exposed to the idea of digital safety. And as technology gets more advanced, it is getting ever more lucrative for hackers and other malign actors, which means that the urgency of the need for digital security skills for everyone cannot be over-stated,” says Daphne.

Human Rights Defender of the month:Mary Pais Da Silva

On 17 February 2023, in Ethiopia’s rustic resort of Bishoftu, more than 5000Km from her homeland, Mary Da Silva was announced winner of the 2023 AfricanDefenders Shield Award, in the presence of hundreds of colleague human rights defenders from 36 African countries. It was a fitting validation for the Eswatini human rights lawyer, whose sense of empathy and sensitivity to injustice has been a defining hallmark of her career.
Born 45 years ago in Lubombo, eastern Eswatini, the last of 4 siblings, Mary attributes her values to her upbringing. Although she was born in Eswatini, her parents are originally from Mozambique, and only relocated to eSwatini at the start of the Mozambican civil war that lasted between 1977-1992, which ravaged families and displaced many others.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Jane Naini Meriwas

Like many African societies, The Samburu community in Northern Kenya is a gerontocracy – a very hierarchical community in which elders hold sway over almost all private and public matters. Among these predominantly pastoral nomads, very little importance is attached to the young – especially young girls, who are barely given a chance at education and often married off before their first menstrual cycle, but not before they undergo mandatory Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
It is in this community that Jane Naini Meriwas was born 46 years ago, in Kipsing village, Oldonyiro Subcounty, Isiolo County. When she was 16, her mother passed on, and she watched with great trepidation as her father planned to marry another wife, not sure what that would mean for her or her ambitions for school. As it turned out, fate was on her side. When her father uncharacteristically asked what she thought of his plans, Jane seized the opportunity to stand up for herself and interests:

Human Rights Defender of the month: Kasale Maleton Mwaana

Kasale’s human rights activism precedes his years. The son of pastoralist parents from Ngorongoro district in northern Tanzania, he grew up seeing his parents and entire community having to defend their land and way of life against authorities who thought their lands could be put to better use. Now, at 25, Kasale is already one of the most recognizable advocates of his people’s cause, much to the ire of Tanzanian authorities.
“Our people’s struggle goes back many generations. It started with the pushing out of our forefathers from Serengeti to gazette Serengeti National Park in 1959, and then further evictions from the Ngorongoro crater to gazette the Ngorongoro conservation area in 1975. Since then, every generation has had to resist further evictions. It’s now my generation’s turn,” he says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Pierre Claver Mbonimpa

Arguably no single individual personifies Burundi’s human rights struggle like Pierre Claver Mbonimpa. Born 72 years ago in the small East African country, Claver’s quest for human rights and justice is as old as his country’s modern history.

When his country was plunged into a civil war that killed an estimated 300,000 people following the 1993 assassination of President Cyprien Ntaryamira, Claver was one of its earliest victims. Then a close confidant (he was also a former driver) of the assassinated President, he was framed, and arrested, and would go on to spend the next two years between 1994 and 1996 in jail.

It is in prison that the ulcer of injustice bit him hard. There, he met inmates who had either been wrongfully imprisoned or who had been remanded for long periods without trial, all living in dehumanising conditions. “I was strongly revolted by the injustice. Here were probably innocent people whose years were being wasted away by an unfair judicial system, with no one to stand up for them. I swore that I would try to do something about it once I got out myself,” he says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Kamau Ngugi

On October 7, 2022, Kamau Ngugi was elected Chairperson of the East and Horn of Africa human rights defenders’ network (EHAHRD-net), a stirring affirmation for the Kenyan human rights defender’s efforts in defense of human rights that go back nearly 30 years.

But it was not always this promising for her. Born 37 years ago in Grand Kru, Southeastern Liberia, Margaret had to do with a childhood of abuse, neglect, and want, after her, her sibling and her mother were abandoned by their father at an early age.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Margaret Muna Nigba

A human rights lawyer per excellence, Margaret is also an indefatigable woman human rights defender (WHRD) who has won the adulation of millions in her country for her impassioned dedication to defending the rights of women and girls in her native Liberia.

But it was not always this promising for her. Born 37 years ago in Grand Kru, Southeastern Liberia, Margaret had to do with a childhood of abuse, neglect, and want, after her, her sibling and her mother were abandoned by their father at an early age.