Search
Close this search box.

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.  

It is this convoluted immigration background that would later inspire Veronica’s future career. Her subsequent visits to Asmara, and her experience with other Eritreans struggling to escape the country’s authoritarian highhandedness left a big impression on her:

“Although I was only 12 years when I first visited (Eritrea), I could tell very clearly how privileged I was to grow up in a country like Switzerland. The next visits in 2004 and 2010 only served to strengthen my sense of responsibility to do something,” she says.

Veronica’s most enduring memory was the agony of Eritrean girls and boys her age being forcefully conscripted into the country’s national service. Adopted as official national policy in 1995, Eritrea’s National Service Proclamation mandates all Eritreans aged between 18 and 50  to undertake compulsory military training for at least six months. The policy, designed to ensure sufficient personnel numbers for the country’s military has been widely criticized for its human rights excesses, forcing many young people into exile.

It was an issue Veronica was determined to challenge once back in Switzerland. In 2012, she started a virtual campaign dubbed “stop slavery in Eritrea,” where she connected with like-minded Eritreans around the world and invited witness to provide testimonies of the policy’s human rights excesses. With the campaign gaining momentum over the years, Veronica started mobilizing institutional stakeholders to join the campaign. In 2016, her and her group organized a 25,000-strong match in front of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, demanding more resolute international action about human rights in Eritrea.

Although the protestors did not achieve their ultimate target of having Eritrea referred to the UN Security Council, they succeeded in pressuring the Human Rights Council to renew the mandate of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea for another year.

For Veronica though, the campaign for the dignity of Eritreans was of one struggle but many fronts. The other front was targeting European migration policies, which were shutting out migrants and condemning thousands to cold deaths on the Mediterranean.

“Governments across Europe are stopping migrants and refugees from crossing the Mediterranean Sea, despite the horrors in Libya. So you have a situation where on one hand, governments like the one in Eritrea are championing egregious national policies that are driving thousands into exile, and on the other Europe is building walls to shut those looking for asylum out. So, the challenge is incommensurable, especially for refugees who need protection,” she says.

“Governments across Europe are stopping migrants and refugees from crossing the Mediterranean Sea, despite the horrors in Libya. So you have a situation where on one hand, governments like the one in Eritrea are championing egregious national policies that are driving thousands into exile, and on the other Europe is building walls to shut those looking for asylum out. So, the challenge is incommensurable, especially for refugees who need protection,” she says.

Her work has not gone unrecognized. In 2016, Veronica was appointed to the Swiss Federal Commission on Migration, one of the youngest members to be appointed so, by the Swiss Federal Council. Here, she advises the Swiss government on migration policy and is currently serving another term.   She has also since set up an NGO – Information Forum for Eritrea (IFE), where she seeks to humanize the plight of Eritreans and Eritrean refugees in Eritrea, Europe, and all over the world.  

Last year, Veronica was among the 36 leaders from 24 countries selected to join the Obama Foundation Leaders Europe program. She says it (the selection) was such an important validation of her work.

Asked what continues to motivate her, she says: “The search for the rule of law and the conviction that all people deserve to experience their full potential. I want to see Eritreans given reparation for the grave crimes that they have been subject to. But I also feel extremely privileged to have been raised in Switzerland thus spared of all the horrors my people have been experiencing. So, I feel a sense of duty and responsibility.”

See more HRDs of the Month

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.

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.

SHARE WITH FRIENDS: