In a new video launched on the International Human Rights Defenders Day by DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project) and the Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network (PAHRDN), grassroots human rights defenders (HRDs) from the Ssese Islands and Bulissa district in Uganda speak about their work within their community and the challenges they face.
HRDs in the East and Horn of Africa and throughout the continent regularly face hostility from both State and non-State actors. However, in rural areas they also find themselves isolated and cut off from protection mechanisms, while also confronted with a host of practical challenges such as poor technical infrastructures and limited means of transportation. Rural HRDs play a critical role educating local communities about their rights, combatting gender-based violence, standing up to land grabbing, challenging extractive industries, and defending the rights of communities in the face of large-scale› development projects.
“We always lived here peacefully until oil was discovered and people started claiming land that isn’t theirs. […] A company rented land from me, and a man came and claimed it was his,” said Mukubya Sabiti, a farmer from Bulissa, in the video. “The human rights defenders taught me that even without a lawyer I can defend myself in court.”
In its 2012 report “Only the brave talk about oil”, DefendDefenders found that despite their important role, HRDs have found the extractive sector to be resistant to monitoring and hostile to criticism, and HRDs who consistently engage these economies have found themselves under attack by both State and non-State actors.
“On International Human Rights Defenders Day, I wish to renew our commitment to protecting all HRDs, wherever they may be, and to pay particular attention to those who are most at risk and most isolated,” said Hassan Shire, DefendDefenders’ Executive Director and Chairman of PAHRDN. “They do valuable work and are a critical part of our human rights defenders community, but suffer greatly from lack of visibility and access to protection mechanisms.”
In his latest report presented to the United Nations General Assembly in October 2016, Michel Forst, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, warned that environmental HRDs face unprecedented risks, including growing numbers of attacks and murders, as well as States’ complacency in the face of these attacks.