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Updates from April 2019!

Dear friends and colleagues,

This month, we attended the 64th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt  – the top human rights body of the African Union (AU). The Commission offers a space to discuss the human rights situation on the continent, and develop strategies to protect people’s rights.

However, I observed with concern the very low attendance to the 64th ACHPR session, partially due to the fact that many participants were unable to obtain an Egyptian visa. Furthermore, participants faced hurdles in securing venues to organise human rights events. These restrictions demonstrate the crackdown on human rights and a subtle attack on the effectiveness and independence of the Commission.

I was further concerned with the deportation of Dr Wairagala Wakabi, the Executive Director of the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), who was travelling from Uganda to Tanzania to represent CIPESA following its nomination for a human rights award. The continuous harassment of human rights defenders (HRDs) in Tanzania  demonstrates a further closing of civic space where the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly are curtailed. To this end, we call on Tanzanian leaders to respect national and international human rights standards.

The murder of the two South Sudanese HRDs Dong Samuel Luak and Aggrey Ezbon Idri, allegedly by state security forces, after being abducted in Nairobi, Kenya in January 2017, further signals the unsafe working environment for HRDs in the sub-region.

This month, we also commemorated the prominent Burundian HRD Ernest Manirumva, allegedly killed 10 years ago for investigating state corruption. Investigation is still inconclusive and the perpetrators are yet to be held accountable. We continue to call on the Burundian government to ensure justice.  

The alarming April events illustrate an increasingly challenging environment for HRDs speaking up about human rights violations and challenging power the sub-region. We must continue to act.

Yours sincerely,

Hassan Shire,
Executive Director, DefendDefenders

Recommended reading:  

Check out:

  • Call for inputs: Report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence on “apologies in transitional justice contexts.” Read more. Deadline: 17 May 2019.
  • Call for inputs: Report by the UN Secretary-General on “social development challenges faced by persons with albinism, taking into consideration the specific needs of women and children”. Read more. Deadline: 22 May 2019.
  • Call for inputs: Report by the UN Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order on the issue of “participation in global governance spaces.” Read more (English, Français, Español). Deadline: 23 May 2019.
  • Call for applications: Call for applications from journalists across Europe and Africa for the September School on Media and Migration 9 – 4 September 2019 in Rabat, Morocco. Questions regarding the call can be directed to [email protected]Read more. Deadline: 31 May 2019.

Updates from DefendDefenders: 

  • A DefendDefenders’ delegation participated in the NGO Forum and the 64th ACHPR ordinary session  in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. We engaged the Commission and its special mechanisms on protection of HRDs from the East and Horn of Africa sub-region. Additionally, we hosted several panel discussions on issues relevant to HRDs and civic space, and managed a security help desk for HRDs. We delivered a statement, together with AfricanDefenders, on the human rights situation in Africa;
  • From 8 – 11 April, DefendDefenders took part in the CIVICUS-organised International Civil Society Week (ICSW) 2019 in Belgrade, Serbia. The event gathered over 1000 participants for a week of reflections on civic space and strategies to protect and expand it worldwide. DefendDefenders also endorsed the Belgrade Call to Action, which highlights the key role of HRDs and civic space in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Agenda 2030;
  • DefendDefenders received 12 grant requests; four requests were approved, two were referred to like-minded organisations, five did not meet the criteria, and one is pending verification;
  • From 8 – 12 April, DefendDefenders conducted a training of trainers (TOT) on preventive security skills for HRDs to be able to train in local languages in Uganda;
  • DefendDefenders conducted a one-day training in preventive security for the staff of Foundation of Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) at the Human Rights House in Kampala, Uganda;
  • From 1 – 10 April, DefendDefenders protection team attended a ten-day ToT organised by Human Rights Capacity Building Programme (HURICAP) and Amnesty International Netherlands in Entebbe, Uganda. The training aimed to equip participants from Africa with skills to conduct training in monitoring, documenting, and reporting (MDR) on human rights violations;
  • On 16 April, DefendDefenders facilitated a session on the relevance of databases for civil society organisations (CSOs) when monitoring human rights, organised by UN Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Uganda;
  • DefendDefenders attended the Press Freedom Index report validation workshop, conducted by Human Rights Network for Journalists;
  • DefendDefenders carried out a ToT in digital security for Ugandan trainers;
  • DefendDefenders trained ten Ugandan civil society technologists on the SAFETAG digital security auditing framework;
  • DefendDefenders attended the ICT4D Conference tracks on privacy, data security, and data for development;
  • DefendDefenders conducted the second round of Safe Sisters Women’s Digital Safety Fellowship with participants from South Sudan, Sudan, and Ethiopia, and updated the Safe Sisters website.

Updates from AfricanDefenders:

  • AfricanDefenders supported the participation of six HRDs to the 64th session of ACHPR;
  • AfricanDefenders joined CSOs in an open letter to the government of Cameroon during the NGO Forum;
  • AfricanDefenders joined CSOs in a letter of protest to the ACHPR on the treatment accorded to CSOs during the NGO forum by Egypt.

Updates from the East and Horn of Africa sub-region: 


  • The U.S. State Department called on Burundi to withdraw its decision to suspend the U.S funded Voice of America and ban BBC, and to allow for freedom of expression in the run-up to the 2020 election.
  • UN human rights experts released a statement urging the Government of Burundi to immediately release Germain Rukuki, a HRD whose case awaits a decision by the Bujumbura Court of Appeal.
  • The case of the seven school children, arrested last month for doodling on a photo of the Burundian president, and charged with “insulting the head of state”, continues to stir discussions on Burundi’s crackdown on civil society.
  • About 130 supporters have been arrested and tortured since the official launch of the National Congress for Freedom (CNL) political party on March 10.



South Sudan


Somalia (Somaliland)


  • Human rights groups raise sincere concerns to the human rights situation in Tanzania, as Dr Wairagala Wakabi, the Executive Director of CIPESA, a leading digital rights activist, was deported on April 25. Wakabi was travelling to Tanzania to represent the organisation for the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders’ Day, hosted by the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC), as the organisation was nominated for a human rights award.
  • April 2019 markedmore than 500 days since the prominent journalist and HRD Azory Gwanda went missing under  suspicious circumstances. Committee to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Watch, among other rights activists, raise concerns to his disappearance and call on the government to ensure proper investigation into the case. The #WhereIsAzory campaign continues on social media.
  • Human rights groups call on the Tanzanian authorities to adopt and implement a National Albinism Protection Plan, to ensure that the rights of persons with albinism, an extremely marginalised group in the country, are adequately protected.