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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.

There was a lot of suffering in the camp, including sexual violence against women and girls, who could not report the full scope of it (the sexual violence) to the predominantly male humanitarian workers in the camp. So, I started reaching out to these victims, and interpreting their stories to the humanitarian agencies documenting the suffering of people displaced by the civil war. By the time she was barely out of her teens, Shima was training women on how to administer first aid in case of violence against them, and on how and where to report such abuses for purposes of future accountability. This activism made her a marked person. Many of her colleagues were targeted and sexually abused, others were killed, and she continuously received threats that she would be next. “In 2008, government forces attacked the camp looking for me and other activists. When they didn’t find me, they killed my nephew and injured my brother. It became clear that I had to leave for my safety.

In 2011, Shama escaped South into newly independent South Sudan, where she spent the next two years organizing fellow Sudan refugees to secure formal refugee status and protection from the South Sudan government. The effort was in vain, and in 2013, her and five other colleague human rights defenders (HRDs) crossed further south into Uganda, where they purposed to complete their education. Sharma sought and was granted admission into Cavendish University, where she studied International Relations and Diplomacy, graduating in 2017.

While she pursued school, Shama used her free time to look for and network with other Sudan exiles in Uganda, especially those from Darfur. In 2014, her and other women formed Sudan Women for Peace and Development Association (SWPDA), with a view of reaching out to and supporting colleague Sudan women exiled in Uganda. She and other youth from the Fur community – the biggest indigenous community in Darfur that suffered most of the brunt of the civil war back home also formed a Fur community-based organisation(CBO) in Kampala, dedicated to welcoming Fur youth displaced by the violence.

The idea was to invite them (Fur youth) wherever we came across one into this community, share experiences and support those in difficult situations, and connect others to any work or mentorship opportunities, as they try to settle in this foreign country.

Shima’s growing influential role in the exiled Sudanese HRD community in Uganda soon got her on the radar of her tormentors back home in Sudan, who started sending her threatening messages warning her to stop her organizing work in the Sudan HRD community.  Faced with the reactivated threats, she confided in a colleague who linked her up with DefendDefenders.

DefendDefenders were very kind and empathetic. They linked me up with the Refugee Law Project which at the time was playing the lead role in refugee issues, and in the meantime, gave me a reasonable subsistence stipend to get me into a secure neighborhood as I processed the paperwork with Refugee Law project. Later, when I told them about the Sudanese Women for Peace and Development Association, they invited us and trained us in areas like digital security, report writing, documentation and advocacy

As a new organization interested in human rights work, DefendDefenders also took the trouble to take Shima and her colleagues at SWPDA through the basics of human rights defending, including advocacy, and the relevant laws and institutional instruments.

You know most of us just became human rights defenders by existential necessity. We did not know the dynamics and the know-how of becoming effective human rights defenders. So DefendDefenders gave us our first professional orientation – on the UN and African Union instruments, refugee protection laws, how to document violations to pursue accountability, and much more

Shima is now fairly settled in Uganda. The two organizations she helped found, SWPDA and the Fur CBO have firmly taken root thanks to a committed membership, and support from partners like DefendDefenders. Along the way, she also found love, and is now a happily married mother of three.

But she has not given up the dream of returning to a peaceful Sudan. When the most recent crisis broke out in the country on April 15, she mobilized her fellow exiled Sudanese HRDs to form numerous WhatsApp groups via which they could keep in touch with events on the ground back home and connect trapped home girls and homeboys to humanitarian groups on the ground for support. “We cannot give up on Sudan. It is the only country we call home

See more HRDs of the Month

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.

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.

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