Dear friends, colleagues, and fellow human rights defenders,

Throughout 2017, the human rights situation in the East and Horn of Africa remained extremely precarious, with five (5) of the eleven (11) countries under our mandate currently subject to UN Special Procedures. Continued internal conflict threatens to destroy countries like South Sudan and Burundi, while more stable nations like Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia continue to feel civilian pressure for more representative democracy. The push and pull of progress remains twofold: whereas nations like Somalia have made great strides with regards to human rights, others like Tanzania have actively taken steps backwards.

Throughout the sub-region, as in much of the world, we are witnessing shrinking civic space and attacks against human rights defenders (HRDs) that often go unreported and without redress. DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project) was founded on the principle that all voices working for the realisation of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights deserve to be heard, without fear of reprisals. Sadly, this remains a distant dream in this sub-region, but one we nonetheless continue to fight for.

This year, our flagship protection program provided 199 grants and interventions to HRDs and organisations that faced threats related to their work. Through international and local partnerships, such as the Great Lakes Project, we continue to improve our relations with grassroots HRDs and organisations across the sub-region to ensure their safety. However, much can be done to prevent these threats before they arise. In 2017, DefendDefenders organised over 20 workshops and follow-up missions to train HRDs in physical and digital security management – Stand Up!, a security manual for African HRDs, was also launched in 2017. Moreover, our technology program has been at the forefront of exploring new strategies to allow HRDs to safely work online and document human rights violations.

Meanwhile, DefendDefenders continues to work for institutional change to benefit the position of HRDs. Our advocacy, research, and communications department elevates the voices of HRDs to the international level by supporting HRDs to access human rights mechanisms, and publishing research on pressing issues, like threats facing journalists. The Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network (PAHRDN) connects HRDs all over the continent. In order to provide better protection for HRDs at risk, the Network has now established three hub-cities, that offer a safe haven on the African continent

The grim reality is that those advocating for human rights still find themselves in the crosshairs of the powerful. However, DefendDefenders remains committed to their defence by ensuring that all HRDs in the sub-region are able to continue their important human rights work, and that their voices never fall silent. On behalf of the entire DefendDefenders team, I would like to extend our sincere gratitude to all our partners who have supported us throughout the year including our board members, and look forward to continuing and strengthening our collaborations throughout 2018 and the years to come.

Yours in solidarity,

Hassan Shire