In memory of Professor Mesfin Woldemariam

On behalf of DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project) and AfricanDefenders (Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network), I express my deepest condolences to the family, friends, and human rights fraternity of the late Professor Mesfin Woldemariam, who passed away on 30 September 2020. Professor Woldemariam was a renowned human rights defender, academic, and an advocate for social justice. He was also the founder of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO), one of the oldest civil society organisations in Ethiopia, as well as a founding member of DefendDefenders’ Network.

My first encounter with Professor Woldemariam was in November 1998 in Johannesburg at the All Africa Human Rights Defenders Conference convened by Amnesty International. At the time, he was the Executive Director of EHRCO, while I was the Co-director of the Dr. Ismail Jumale Human Rights Centre in Mogadishu, Somalia. Later in December 1998, we were part of the African delegation to the first world summit for human rights defenders in Paris, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and witness the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on human rights defenders. Since then, our paths continued to cross as we struggled to enhance the promotion and protection of human rights on our continent. He risked his life speaking truth to power and was at many times a target of the state.

I was honoured to have Professor Woldemariam grace our annual Claiming Spaces workshop in Addis Abba in December 2019 – an event I would never have imagined possible two years prior, where he blessed the establishment of the Ethiopia Human Rights Defenders Coalition. To recognise his great contribution to the human rights discourse, DefendDefenders presented Prof. Woldemariam, the Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Award which he graciously accepted. In his words, “There is no better acknowledgement of one’s efforts than the one from close African friends.”

Rest in peace and power my friend.


Hassan Shire
Executive Director DefendDefenders
Chairperson AfricanDefenders


Human Rights Defender of the month: Alex Njenga John

Alex Njenga has always believed in egalitarianism both as a principle and as a tool for justice. As a result, he has always been suspicious of, and at times hostile to social prejudices that treat some people as “more equal than others,” – to use a line from George Orwell’s famed political fable, Animal Farm.

Some of the experiences that have shaped his social and political outlook have been personal. As an adolescent in Kenya’s Uasin Gishu County, Alex was stigmatised and denied healthcare after he identified himself as belonging to Kenya’s sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) community.