Dear friends and colleagues,
July was a bittersweet month for us at DefendDefenders. Like everywhere else, COVID19 continued to wreck our lives. On the evening of 26 July, we tragically lost one of us – Mariam Nakibuuka, to the pandemic. Mariam was a valued member of our team, who, until her passing, served as a senior protection associate with our protection and security department. We condole with Mariam’s family and all others who have lost loved ones to this pandemic. May the souls of their loved ones find eternal rest and may their memories be a blessing.
On a positive note, we participated, albeit virtually, in the 47th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC 47), where we, together with other civil society organisations and international partners managed to secure a resolution on Ethiopia’s raging Tigray conflict. As I noted in a statement, the resolution is a critical step to discussing the worrying human rights dimensions of the conflict, and offers an opportunity for all international actors to engage with the process with a view of ending all human rights violations in Tigray. It is also in harmony with the joint call by several civil society organisations ahead of the session.
The HRC47 also adopted a separate resolution renewing the mandate of the UN special rapporteur on Eritrea, which enables continued scrutiny of Eritrean authorities’ human rights violations at home and abroad.
Of DefendDefenders’ 11 focus countries, six including Burundi, Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Ethiopia, are on the Human Rights Council’s agenda. It is both an indicator of the vulnerable state of human rights in the East and Horn of Africa, and a reminder of the enduring necessity and importance of our work.
This month, we continued to avail emergency support to Human Rights Defenders(HRDs) under threat because of their work. We received 36 applications for support, 11 of which were approved. We also continued to strengthen the capacity of HRDs, particularly Women Human Rights Defenders(WHRDs) and environmental HRDs through training workshops and seminars. For HRDs facing IT-security-related incidents/threats, we have setup an emergency helpline that can be accessed via WhatsApp, signal and webchat.
I wish you all brighter fortunes in the months ahead.
Executive Director, DefendDefenders
Human Rights Defender of the Month: Mariam Nakibuuka
On 26th July 2021, Mariam Nakibuuka, 35, breathed her last at Uganda’s Kampala hospital, succumbing to the rampaging COVID19 pandemic. Mariam joined DefendDefenders in 2015, and quickly distinguished herself as a valuable member of the security and protection department where she served as a senior protection associate at the time of her death.
Updates from DefendDefenders:
- At the 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC47) which concluded on 13 July 2021, DefendDefenders, alongside other International NGOs, helped secure a resolution on Ethiopia calling for an end to all human rights violations in the Tigray region and a speedy withdrawal of troops exacerbating the conflict.
- Read the NGOs’ letter to the members of the UN Human Rights Council calling for the resolution ahead of the HRC47, and Hassan Shire’s statement on its(resolution’s) significance.
- At the same session (HRC47), DefendDefenders in concert with colleague NGOs helped secure a resolution extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea. Read Hassan Shire’s reflections on the importance of the resolution.
- Ahead of the third Universal Periodic Reviews (UPRs) of South Sudan and Uganda, together with partners South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network (SSHRDN) and National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders- Uganda? (NCHRD-U), we submitted reports focusing on civic space and the situation of human rights defenders in the two countries. Read our submissions on South Sudan and Uganda.
- AfricanDefenders delivered a presentation on the crisis in Tigray and recommendations to address some of the consequences of the conflict to the external relations section of the European Economic & Social Committee (EESC) on the Geopolitics of migration.
- AfricanDefenders attended an event sponsored by the National Endowment for Democracy – titled; Renovate Nigeria: Fostering Collaboration between Civil Society and the Arts for Democracy in Nigeria, in which a NED fellow, Dj Switch, shared her experiences in the #EndSARS protests and the vital role the partnership between civil society and artists played in sustaining the protest movement.
- AfricanDefenders delivered a presentation on hub cities and the available support mechanisms at a training of environmental lawyers in the DRC, organised by the Environmental Law Alliance.
- DefendDefenders tech conducted 3 trainings for 43 participants, 42 of whom were WHRDs.
- The tech team set up the DefendDefenders Helpline Platform, now available via WhatsApp, Signal, and Webchat. HRDs can now reach out to DefendersTech to report any IT security-related incidents via WhatsApp and Signal at +256 393 252 310, and Webchat, accessible via Get Help – DefendDefenders. An HRD can send a request via any of these channels and someone from DefendersTech will respond immediately.
- In the first week of July, DefendDefenders’ conducted online engagements with participants from seven organisations working on sexual orientation and gender identity issues to follow up on a holistic security management training held in March 2021. Nine participants (five females and four males) took part in these engagements.
- The protection team continued its wellbeing sessions. From 7- 9 July 2021, DefendDefenders together with the Defenders Coalition Kenya facilitated sessions on Wellbeing for 17 participants. Participants were taken through basics of managing stress.
- On the 16, 19, 20 and 30 July, the team interacted with Safe Sisters from Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan, and facilitated sessions on wellbeing, gender, threats analysis and risk assessment. Safe Sisters is a fellowship program for women human rights defenders (WHRDs) and activists that trains them to better respond to digital security challenges in their line of work.
- From 28 – 30 July 2021, the team had a 3-day online follow-up with participants in the women lawyers and paralegals training. 10 out of the 12 participants attended the sessions. All participants were female.
- The protection team also trained 38 land and environment rights activists from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in a workshop organised by Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide. Diverse topics on preventive and responsive protection of HRDs were shared.
- Between 1 July 2021 and 30 July 2021, we received 36 requests for support. Of these, 1 was withdrawn, 11 were approved, seven rejected, five referred, while 12 are still pending.
Human rights updates from the East and Horn of Africa sub-region:
On 9 July 2021, Agathon Rwasa, the leader of the country’s main opposition party raised concerns over the alleged abductions of members of his National Congress for Freedom (CNL) party. Rwasa believes that his party members are targeted and forcibly disappeared. The party claims that Elie Ngomirakiza, one of their leaders is missing and his whereabouts are unknown.
On 1 July 2021, Tsegaze’ab Kidanu, a coordinator of humanitarian assistance and a volunteer media manager for an association called Mahbere Kidus Yared Zeorthodox Tewahido Tigray was arrested in his home. Prior to his arrest, his association released a statement on the human rights situation in Tigray. Kidanu was transferred to Awash Arba and is yet to be charged. According to Kidanu’s lawyer, 24 Tigrayans were arrested between 30 June and 8 July 2021.
Press freedom also remains under threat. On 15 July 2021, Ethiopia’s Media Authority withdrew independent media outlet Addis Standard’s license, resulting in its temporary closure. The media house is accused of publishing content that advances the “terrorist group,” TPLF’s agenda. Deputy Director General of the media authority, Yonatan Tesfaye claims investigations are underway, following complaints made against the media house for undermining national security.
On 7 July 2021, the police arrested dozens of protestors calling for an end to police brutality in the enforcement of the COVID19 curfew. Police officers dispersed the protest by shooting live bullets and firing teargas at protestors. It was the 31st Saba Saba protest, an annual protest staged annually on 7th July. Started in 1990 to demand free elections, the day has since been taken up by HRDs and civil society organisations to annually protest police brutality, extrajudicial killings, and demand respect for the constitution.
On 9 July 2021, Yvonne Chepkwony, a journalist working for The Standard newspaper, and an intern from News Agency, Faith Lagat, were arrested in Baringo while covering a defilement case. The two journalists were following up on an open case against a headteacher who allegedly defiled and impregnated a 17-year-old secondary school girl. The police officers confiscated their phones and arrested them, only to release them later without charge.
On 18th July, an investigation by 17 international media organisations found that that Rwandan authorities used Israel surveillance company NSO Group’s spyware to target approximately 3500 activists, journalists, and politicians. The spyware also allegedly infected Paul Rusesabagina’s daughter, Carine Kanimba.
On 1 July 2021, armed police officers stormed Bandhiga Radio in Hamar Jaja district, Mogadishu, detaining five employees from the radio including two interns and three journalists. While the five were later released that day, the radio station remained closed.
On 5 July 2021, Barkhad Mohamed Bashe, a freelance journalist was detained by Somaliland Police officers in Las’Anod. Bashe was arrested while covering a protest by women who claimed that their sons were arrested by the police and transferred to Borame prison for wearing the Somali flag outfits while celebrating the Somaliland independence. He was released without charge on 6 July 2021, on condition that he stop reporting on events in the region.
On 5 July 2021, the country’s National Security Service arrested Alfred Angasi, a radio presenter at the state-owned South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation (SSBC). Angasi was detained at NSS’s headquarters in Juba, infamously known as the “Blue House,” for two weeks without charge and without access to his lawyer and family.