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: 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.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Veronica Almedom

Veronica Almedom is a poster child of successful immigration. A duo Eritrean and Swiss citizen, she was born in Italy, and grew up in Switzerland where she permanently resides. Her parents are some of the earliest victims of Eritrea’s cycles of violence. When Eritrea’s war of independence peaked in the early 1980s, they escaped the country as unaccompanied minors, wandering through Sudan, Saudi Arabia, before making the hazard journey across the Mediterranean into Europe. There, they crossed first to Italy, and finally, to Switzerland, where they settled first as refugees, and later, as permanent residents.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Omar Faruk Osman

Omar Faruk’s career, and the passion that drove it, were the product of his circumstances. He was born in 1976, in the first of strong man Mohamed Siad Barre’s two-decade rule over Somalia, which was characterized by gross rights abuses and barely existent civic space. He came of age in the 90s when those abuses and rights violations were peaking, as his country was engulfed by a ruinous civil war following the collapse of the Siad Barre dictatorship.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Rita Kahsay

When the Ethiopian Federal Government representatives and those of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) signed a peace agreement in Pretoria, in November last year, the two parties were hailed for ending arguably the deadliest conflict of the 21st century, in which over 600,000 people had died.
But long before the negotiators for peace got around to an agreement, there were many other unsung heroes, who, through individual and collective efforts helped sustain the world’s gaze on the dire situation in Tigray, despite the Ethiopian Government’s determined efforts to hush it up.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Godfrey Kagaayi

Born 33 years ago, in Bukoba, northern Tanzania, Godfrey Kagaayi did not have to look elsewhere for inspiration to tackle the daunting challenge of mental health. By his own admission, the family and community in which he was raised were fertile grounds for the same.
His family had crossed the border into Uganda when he was barely 5 months, settling into present day Rakai district. But the Rakai of the 90s was a difficult place for a child to make their earliest memories: In 1990, Uganda’s first ever case of HIV/AIDs was reported in the district, setting off a decade of suffering and anguish for many of its residents. Taking advantage of the Rakai’s fishing and polygamous lifestyle, the novel virus spread like wildfire, killing people in droves and leaving untold heartache in its wake.

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.