After a difficult past month in which the second wave of COVID19 peaked in several of our focus countries, August brought with it some much needed reprieve in form of declined infections. As countries scale up vaccination efforts, it is our hope that this pandemic will soon be behind us, and that brighter days lie on the horizon.
On the human rights front, there were few highlights to register in August. In several of our focus countries, governments continued to claw away at civic space, seeking tighter control of NGOs and other civil society organisations and imposing more stringent restrictions on their activities.
With governments seeking, and granting themselves greater, unchecked powers under the guise of combating the COVID19 pandemic, many ordinary citizens will suffer the consequences of this shrinking space for advocacy and civic expression long after the pandemic has passed. Already, in several of our focus countries, a myriad of human rights violations associated with the enforcement of COVID19 restrictions have been reported, some resulting in deaths. In many of these cases, the violators are yet to be held to account, weeks, even months, after their commissions.
DefendDefenders will continue to defend critical human rights and freedoms while challenging our partner countries to live up to their local and international commitments regarding the defense and preservation of human rights.
In light of the continued human rights violations in Burundi, we, alongside 40 other local and international NGOs wrote to the UN human rights council ahead of its 48th session (HRC48) urging for continued scrutiny, including documenting all violations and abuses.
Following the suspension of over 54 NGOs in Uganda, our partners, AfricanDefenders and 53 other civil society organisations across Africa issued a joint statement urging the Ugandan authorities to free civil society actors involved in human rights work.
Like always, we have continued to pay prioritise human rights defenders (HRDs), especially their safety and wellbeing. This month, we conducted over five trainings in several of our focus countries, focusing on the physical and digital wellbeing of HRDs.
I invite you to look at the rest of our work this month.
Executive Director, DefendDefenders
Human Rights Defender of the Month: Dibabe Bacha
Dibabe Bacha is a trailblazer on many fronts. Visually impaired, but unequivocally impassioned for human rights, she has devoted herself to defending and protecting human rights in her native Ethiopia, especially for women with disabilities. 10 years ago, Dibaba founded the Ethiopian Women with Disabilities National Association (EWDNA), with a primary aim of securing social recognition and legal protection for women with disabilities in Ethiopia.
Updates from DefendDefenders:
- DefendDefenders scaled up preparations for the 48thsession of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC48). Set for 13 September-8 October 2021, the HRC48 will be a heavy session, with several East and Horn of Africa countries on the agenda. They include Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia, including a debate on Tigray which will take place in accordance with the resolution adopted at HRC47).
- Read our joint civil society letter on Burundi(we advocate for continued scrutiny).
- Regarding Cameroon, read the letter AfricanDefenders and DefendDefenders prepared ahead of the session, calling for long-overdue international action to address the human rights crisis in the country.
- The UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) took note of DefendDefenders’ quadrennial report, which means that we will continue to engage and participate as an officially accredited NGO, in the work of the United Nations.
- Following the suspension of 54 non-governmental organisations in Uganda, AfricanDefenders joined53 other civil society organisations across Africa to urge the Ugandan authorities to free civil society actors involved in promoting fundamental rights to exercise their rights without undue restrictions.
- Given the lack of structural improvements and continued human rights violations in Burundi, AfricanDefenders joined over 40 Burundian, African and international NGOs urging the Human Rights Council to continue its scrutiny and further work towards justice and accountability in Burundi.Read the joint letter.
- In light of the continued inaction of the UN Human Rights Council and other bodies to adequately address the human rights crisis in Cameroon during the previous session, we sent a joint letter together with DefendDefenders and six other NGOs. The letter urged the Council to support multilateral action to address the crisis.
- AfricanDefenders participated in an event held by the International Commission of Jurists on the “Impact of Covid-19 on functioning of judiciaries.” The panelists, who included Judges and lawyers, shared their experiences, and shared how the available means of administering justice can be used in the context of promoting and protecting Human Rights.
- We also participated in a webinar hosted by the African judges and jurists forum on “Addressing the Gendered Impact of Covid-19 on ESC Rights.” The discussion focused on the difficulties women and other vulnerable groups have faced and still face because of restrictions and measures put in place by the different governments in Africa to curb the spread of Covid-19.
- In August, the Protection and Security Management team conducted five trainings, with no follow up activities.
- Between 11 – 26 August 2021, DefendDefenders together with Human Rights Centre Uganda (HRCU) and Universal Coalition of Affirming Africans Uganda (UCAAU) facilitated trainings on physical and digital security for 30 HRDs in Rwenzori subregion, 20 in Eastern region and 30 from Central region.
- From 16 – 20 August 2021, DefendDefenders’ Protection and Security Management team together with partners in Ethiopia, facilitated a training on physical, digital and wellbeing management.
- DefendDefenders tech-team conducted three trainings benefiting 40 HRDs and conducted another three trainings in conjunction with the Protection and Security Management team which benefited 70 HRDs.
Human rights updates from the East and Horn of Africa sub-region:
Six international human rights groups including DefendDefenders released a statement calling on Burundian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release lawyer, Tony Germain Nkina, who was sentenced to five years in prison in June 2021 in connection with his past human rights work.
United Nations rights experts have demanded that Asmara immediately release a Swedish-Eritrean journalist held without charge and largely incommunicado for two decades, voicing fear he may no longer be alive. Dawit Isaak was among a group of two dozen senior cabinet ministers, members of parliament and independent journalists who were seized in what was described as a draconian purge in September 2001.
The United States on Monday imposed new sanctions on Eritrean authorities, including the country’s Chief of Défense Staff, Filipos Woldeyohannes, for the country’s army’s involvement in neighbouring Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict. Woldeyohannes is already sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act for leading an entity accused of “despicable acts” including massacres, widespread sexual assault, and the executions of boys. The statement again calls on Eritrea to remove its soldiers from Ethiopia’s Tigray region permanently.
On 10 August, Ethiopia’s government summoned all capable citizens to war, urging them to join the country’s military to stop resurgent forces from the embattled Tigray region, “once and for all.” The announcement effectively ended the unilateral cease-fire the government declared in June as its military retreated from Tigray.
An Amnesty International report noted that Ethiopian and Eritrean troops have raped hundreds of women and girls in the ongoing Tigray war, subjecting some to sexual slavery and mutilation. The report sheds new light on a scourge already being investigated by Ethiopian law enforcement officials, with at least three soldiers convicted and 25 others charged.
Media reports from Ethiopia noted that Ethiopian authorities have since late June 2021 arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared, and committed other abuses against ethnic Tigrayans in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, including closing dozens of businesses in Addis Ababa belonging to Tigrayans, particularly in Haya Hulet and several neighbourhoods in Bole district.
On 28 August, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) reported that gunmen linked to Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), a division of the banned Oromo Liberation Front attacked and killed at least 150 civilians in Gida Kiremu district of western Ethiopia.
Patrick Mayoyo, an award-winning journalist reported receiving threats from people suspected to be associated with the mysterious deaths of two female journalists he had reported on. Mr. Mayoyo, whose several investigative reports have led to widespread investigations in which senior officials in Kenya have been arrested says he is being tormented by people he believes to be state security agents because of his professional work.
On 15 August, the Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji ordered the arrest of officers linked to the death of two brothers killed during police enforcement of the COVID19 curfew in Kianjokama. In a statement on Monday, Haji said their detention will help avert interference with investigations. The deaths of the brothers, who were students, led to demonstrations in Embu County, resulting in the death of one person when anti-riot officers shot at protesters.
On 21 August, Somali Police in Mogadishu’s Hodan district briefly detained three journalists: Salad Mohamed Kheyre, Abdifatah Mohamed Roble both working for SOMNEWS TV as a reporter and Cameraman respectively and Samiir Abdirisak Omar of Hanti-TV while covering a protest at KM4 area in Mogadishu against the African Union Mission on Somalia (AMISOM) for killing civilians in Lower Shabelle region.
On 31 August, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution to extend the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) for nine months, until May 31, 2022.
The UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) called on South Sudanese authorities to end extrajudicial executions following the killing of at least 42 people accused of criminal activity who were not given access to a fair trial. Nicholas Haysom, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General said the world body has raised concern with relevant authorities to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the extrajudicial executions.
On 27th August, Security officials stormed the compound of Jonglei FM, an independent radio station in eastern Jonglei state, and took three senior journalists, into custody, before confiscating their phones and closing their operations, in connection with a demonstration that had been planned by activists the following week.
On 5 August Tanzanian riot police detained several protesting supporters of arrested opposition leader Freedom Mbowe, as a terrorism case against him was postponed. Mr. Mbowe was arrested in July and charged with terrorism, as he prepared to organise a public forum to demand constitutional reforms in Tanzania
On 11 August, the Tanzanian government suspended a local newspaper for running what it called a false story saying that President Samia Suluhu Hassan would not vie for office in 2025, marking the first newspaper suspension in Suluhu’s tenure.
On 25 August, the Tanzanian government announced that the registration of societies will no longer be permanent, but will instead be renewable every five years, a move leaders of some local societies said would affect long-term planning and silence organisations deemed critical of government.
On 6 August, Ugandan media reported that Ugandan security agents in Turkey had arrested Fred Lumbuye, a popular blogger and supporter of Uganda’s opposition party National Unity Platform (NUP), who is suspected of being the mastermind of widely circulated rumours that President Yoweri Museveni had died after contracting Covid-19. The blogger was apparently arrested as he sought to renew his passport at the Ugandan embassy in Istanbul.
The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) revealed that 40 cases of human rights violations, including deaths, were recorded during the country’s COVI19 inspired lockdown that lasted from 18 June to 30 July 2021, including at least five people who were reportedly killed in the process of enforcing the restrictions.
On 20 August, Uganda’s NGO Bureau suspended “with immediate effect,” 54 NGOs accused of not complying with the law, in a move critics argue is designed to tighten government’s grip over civil society. Several meetings between the affected NGO leaders and Uganda’s Ministry of Internal Affairs are yet to bear fruit.