UN Human Rights Council – 40th regular session

Item 3: General debate  

Oral statement

Delivered by: Estella Kabachwezi


Mr. President,

In December 2018, DefendDefenders published a report on marginalised human rights defenders (HRDs) in East Africa. The report covers the situation of indigenous, women, and LGBT+ HRDs in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, and outlines recommendations to improve their protection and ad­dress their needs. Many of these def­enders face multifaceted threats, as well as disenfranchisement, with inter­secting forms of discrimination.

We welcome the work of the Human Rights Council to recognise and protect HRDs. We regret, however, that hostile amendments were tabled (and ultimately rejected) in March 2016, when the last sub­stantive resolution on HRDs, which addressed economic, social and cultural rights def­enders, was adopted. This issue should produce consensual outcomes, as an open civic space and a safe and enabling environment in which HRDs can operate free from hindrance and insecurity are key both to the realisation of substantive rights and to development. The Sustainable Deve­lopment Goals (SDGs) and the Agenda 2030 cannot be achieved without meaningful participation of, and respect for, civil society and HRDs. Development and respect for human rights are not mu­tually exclusive; but rather go hand in hand.

At this session, we call for the adoption of a strong, substantive resolution on environmental human rights defenders, which recognises the multiple threats they face and the legitimacy of their work, highlights their protection needs, and stresses the nexus between environmental rights, environ­mental defenders, and civic space.

Thank you for your attention.


Human Rights Defender of the Month: Anny Kapenga

As a young student, Anny Kapenga used to cringe at the cult-like worship of Mobutu Sese Seko, the then Zaire’s President. By then, in the early 1990s, Zaire was still under one party rule, and calls were increasing for Mobutu to open political space to allow other parties to operate. In the meantime, however, all Zairians were expected to show affection for Mobutu wherever they gathered in public.

Students across Zaire’s schools were required to sing and dance adoringly before his (Mobutu)’s portrait every morning before they went to class, and all school scholastic materials were emblemed with his portrait. A young Anny never really appreciated the obsession:


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