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International Human Rights Defenders Day: Wellbeing of HRDs at the heart of our work

On the International Human Rights Defenders Day, DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project) celebrates the work of human rights defenders (HRD) throughout the East and Horn of Africa and takes stock of the growing needs of local civil society across the board.

Throughout 2017, authorities have regularly targeted individual Ugandan HRDs with harassment, intimidation, arrests and detention, and extrajudicial killings. Several organisations have been raided and their bank accounts frozen, while others have been broken into and had documents and equipment stolen, without any fruitful or transparent investigations by authorities to date.

“Being a human rights defender is a way of life, and it’s a life of daily reflection and strategy,” said Reine Alapini-Gansou, former Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa in a video published by DefendDefenders on the occasion of the International Human Rights Defenders Day. “We now have many networks across the African continent. I would like to see these networks strengthened through mutual collaboration, cooperation, and interaction. Only in this way can human rights defenders make themselves, and each other, stronger and more effective for the people who need their help.”

In this context, the National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders – Uganda (NCHRD-U), in collaboration with several other Ugandan human rights groups, organised a strategic national dialogue on 9 December to promote a discussion between government ministries, security agencies, development partners, civil society organisations, individual HRDs, academia and the media.

On 8 December, DefendDefenders invited HRDs from all over Uganda for a wellbeing training to address some of the psycho-social needs they may have due to their work. The high demands of the work of HRDs create the need for tools to practice self-care, such as counseling, exercise or artistic therapy.

In light of shrinking civic space and rising pressure on civil society across the East and Horn of Africa, self-care has become an integral part of DefendDefenders’ training programs for HRDs. HRDs are constantly confronted with the real dangers of their work, and nothing highlights this more than the sad news of a fallen colleague.

On International Human Rights Defenders Day, we wish to reiterate our call for transparent and thorough investigations into the extra-judicial killing of HRD Irumba Erasmus in June 2017, the coordinator of the Twerwaneho Listeners’ Club (TLC) activities in Rwebisengo District, and his friend Vide Kanyoro, by officers of the Uganda Police Force (UPF) and Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF).