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Human Rights Defender of the month: Aida Musa

As a soldier’s child, Aida Musa was the unlikeliest of human rights defenders. But as a girl in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, she was left with very little choice. Like many African societies, the Nuba people of Sudan’s South Kordofan region are a very patriarchal society. In the 1970s when Aida was born, education was a privilege of boys – girls were forcefully married off barely into their teens, and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) holds pride of place.  As a girl-dad though, Aida’s father had different ideas for her daughter and helped fuel her human rights consciousness:

“My dad was my human rights teacher. He believed that girls also had an important role to play in society and believed that being conscious of my rights as a girl would protect me against social and institutional abuse against women which was common in Sudan at the time. So once I started learning about my own rights, then I developed motivation to advocate for the rights of others as well,” she says.

Enabled on by her father, Aida would embrace human rights work as her life’s calling. At school, she mobilised the students’ guild to mainstream institutional issues that hold back women access to equal opportunities as their male counterparts, hoping to inspire her colleagues to become change agents back in their communities.

Inspired by Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim – Sudan’s first female member of parliament and one of her country’s foremost advocates for women’s rights, in 2005, Aida ran for political office and won, becoming a member of South Kordofan’s state assembly, one of a handful of women to achieve the distinction. She used her term to denounce the war between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement(SPLM), which had wrought untold suffering to South Kordofan’s people, including rape and sexual violence against the state’s women and girls.

Aida’s and other civil society groups’ continued denunciation of the war helped mobilise international pressure against the fighting between SPLM and the Sudan government, resulting in the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ushered in temporary peace in South Kordofan and much of South Sudan post 2005. The peace was short lived however and following the breakaway and independence of South Sudan in 2011, violence returned to South Kordofan. By then, Aida was a marked person for her unrelenting activism for women rights and opposition to war, and it was no longer safe for her to stay safe in Sudan.

Exile begins and DefendDefenders comes to the rescue.    

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.

“DefendDefenders facilitated our first workshops with both space – they allowed us to use their premises for the workshop and provided basic logistics for it. They also trained us in how to conduct effective advocacy around the issues that concerned us back home in Sudan, and supported us to acquire our first office furniture,” says Aida.

Although she had gradually began to settle down in Kampala, Aida still had a language barrier problem – she could neither speak English nor any of Uganda’s local languages. So DefendDefenders connected her to the Refugee Law Project which at the time was offering a short course in English Language proficiency. She enrolled and used the remainder of her subsistence grant to pay for the course.

Overtime, Aida connected with other members of the Sudanese community in Kampala, which was growing as more people escaped the conflict back home that showed no signs of relenting. In 2014, these came together to found Sudanese Women for Peace and Development, a solidarity and social support association for particularly Sudan women refugees here in Kampala. Aida was elected its founding Chairperson, and she immediately set out to look for partners to support its growth. Like before, she turned to DefendDefenders, and again, the organisation answered her call:

“DefendDefenders facilitated our first workshops with both space – they allowed us to use their premises for the workshop and provided basic logistics for it. They also trained us in how to conduct effective advocacy around the issues that concerned us back home in Sudan, and supported us to acquire our first office furniture,” says Aida.

Most importantly, Aida says it was the networks that DefendDefenders exposed her and her colleagues from Sudan that were consequential and transformative in their efforts to adjust to life in exile. “DefendDefenders introduced us to networks of fellow refugees and exiled human rights defenders from other countries. These colleagues have become a major source of solidarity – we realized that our plight is shared. These networks have since become a great source of inspiration, and for all of us, DefendDefenders was the big safe space at which we met.”   

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.

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