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Updates from March 2020

Dear friends and colleagues,

As the Covid-19 pandemic spreads globally and extraordinary measures are being enacted to respond to this threat, DefendDefenders continue to do our utmost to protect human rights defenders (HRDs) in the East and Horn of Africa sub-region.  

On 8 March, we joined the world in celebrating the International Women’s Day. In our campaign you got to know brave women HRDs, including Mélanie, Diane, MaysaaMaximilienne, and Bernadettewho continue to fight for human rights, despite facing reprisals. In our statement about Burundian women activists in refugee camps, you further got to know PhilomèneIneza, Rosette, and Gloriose – courageous HRDs who advocate for women’s rights despite living in harsh conditions. I applaud your work.  

Recently, I was honoured to welcome almost 200 people, most of them HRDs, to the 7th Annual HRD Forum in Uganda, to deliberate on ways to effectively protect and promote human rights during election times – essential as three of our mandate countries are set to hold their general elections in 2020. 

The measures enacted to prevent the spread of Covid-19 has had major effects on our society, as well as on human rights – including the suspension of the 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and postponement of the 66th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). 

It is time for solidarity and cooperation to tackle this situation, and to mitigate the effects of the virus. However, it is with great concern that I observe that in a number of countries, Covid-19-related measures have been used to supress peoples’ rights, including freedom of expressionThe measures should not be used as a weapon, neither by governments nor individuals, but rather as a tool to protect peopleThey should always be legal, necessary to protect public health, temporary, and proportionate.  

We will continue to monitor the human rights situation in the sub-region, and to speak up against any violations made.  

Please stay safe and take care of each other! 

Yours sincerely,  

Hassan Shire
Executive Director, DefendDefenders

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Kadar Abdi Ibrahim

Kadar Abdi Ibrahim is an outspoken human rights activist and journalist from Djibouti – a country where journalists are frequently harassed, subjected to government-orchestrated intimidation and reprisals, and prevented from pursuing their work independently. Yet, Kadacontinues to use his voice and pen as tools to promote justice.  

As a human rights activist, journalist, and blogger, he is a target in DjiboutiEvery day, I witness the injustice and suffering inflicted upon my fellow compatriots. As a human being, I cannot stand idly by,” Kadar explains.  

Did you know?

  • That DefendDefenders’ focus country for 2020 is Sudan? Check out the interview with our Executive Director, Hassan Shire.

Check out:

  • Call for proposals: ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen), alongside the Goethe-Institut and the Martin Roth-Initiative, welcome proposals for a research project on the ‘Development of local/regional shelters for artists at risk.’ More informationDeadline 10 May 2020. Send your application by email to [email protected]. 
  • Online training: Totem presents free online courses for journalists and activists to learn about digital security and privacy tools to secure their work. More information 

Recommended reading:

Updates from DefendDefenders:

  • Before the suspension of the 43rd session of the HRC due to Covid-19, DefendDefenders delivered five oral statementsWe continue to advocate for the adoption of a resolution on South Sudan to renew the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights (CoHR), and a resolution to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on HRDs, both of which were being finalized when the session was suspended, on 13 March 2020 
  • On the last of the session (13 March 2020), the Council appointed Mary Lawlor, former Executive Director of Front Line Defenders and a long-time friend and partner of DefendDefenders, as UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders. We saluted her appointment and congratulated the outgoing Special Rapporteur, Michel Forst, for his outstanding work in support of HRDs over the last six years;  
  • On 3 March 2020, DefendDefenders launched Sudan as our focus country for 2020 in Kampala, Uganda, attended by Sudanese HRDs, H.E Mohamed Mirghani Yousif (Minister Plenipotentiary of the Embassy of the Republic of the Sudan), and other key stakeholders; 
  • On 18 March 2020, DefendDefenders team facilitated a security management help desk for HRDs session during the Uganda 7th Annual HRD Forum organized by Human Righs Centre Uganda which aimed at identifying avenues to effectively protect and promote human rights during election times. The Forum was attended by 164 HRDs (77 females and 87 males); 
  • DefendDefenders and Civil Rights Defenders (CRD) carried out several joint activities in March 2020, as a part of a yearlong cooperation;  
  • In relation to the International Women’s Day 2020, DefendDefenders carried out a campaign about women HRDs, in cooperation with CRD. The campaign profiled five women HRDs, and published a statement on the situation for women HRDs in Africa. Check out the campaign 
  • Between 3-5 March, DefendDefenders attended a database training in Naivasha, Kenya, together with the national HRD coalitions in Uganda and Kenya, facilitated by CRD. The databaseDiDi 2.0., is an easy-to-use tool for HRDs to register, analyse, and share information about human rights violations; and 
  • On 6 March, DefendDefenders and CRD had a learning visit with Urgent Action Fund Kenya on gender inclusivity.  
  • Trainings and seminars in March 2020; 
  • On 10 March, DefendDefenders took part in a meeting organised by the Global Rights Alert to discuss ways to protect grassroots HRDs in Uganda’s Albertine region; 
  • On 19 March, DefendDefenders took part in a panel on wellbeing and resourcing resilience for HRDs at the HRD platform; 
  • On 24 March, DefendDefenders took part in a webinar training on a new database that will be used by partners of the Protect Defenders Consortium; and 
  • On 26 March, DefendDefenders participated in an online discussion on Twitter with the women@web about policies and tips to stay safe online. 
  • Security audits and risk assessments in March 2020;  
  • DefendDefenders conducted a risk assessment for minority groups in Uganda to re-evaluate their security at their new premises; and 
  • Between 2-7 March, DefendDefenders successfully carried out support visits to three organisations in AruaKiryandongo and Mbarara districts under our Ttaala project.  
  • DefendDefenders received ten requests for protection support. Six cases were approved, one case is pending two were rejected, and one referred to a partner organisation. 

Updates from AfricanDefenders:

  • AfricanDefenders published theirnewsletterfor January and February 2020; and 
  • AfricanDefenders received four applications for support under the Ubuntu Hub Cities initiative. All were approved, but two were temporarily withdrawn due to covid-19 related travel restrictions, and the other two are similarly being reconsidered in light of the current situation. 

Human rights updates from the East and Horn of Africa sub-region:


  • The UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi reports that all risk factors common to criminal atrocities are present in Burundi, which could compromise the country’s upcoming general election on 20 May. 
  • complaint has been filed with the UN Committee against Torture regarding a trial against four lawyers and activists who cooperated with a UN review of Burundi’s rights record. 
  • Burundi’s Covid-19 measures are creating dire circumstances in quarantine camps, while humanitarian organisations are not granted access. The measures could also have implications on the upcoming election. 


  • UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Daniela Kravetz, sees no progress in Eritrea’s human rights situation, since her last report in July 2019. However, the Eritrean government engaged with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), in February. In a statementDefendDefenders encouraged further engagement with the UN human rights system.   
  • Three Eritreans in Canada are suing a Canadian mining company for alleged forced labor in Eritrea. Canada’s Supreme Court claimed jurisdiction on the grounds that the allegations constitute violations of customary international law. 


  • On 4 November, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a military intervention to engage with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Mass casualties have been reported in different parts of Tigray, while thousands of Ethiopians have fled to neighbouring Sudan since last week. A six-month long state of emergency has been declared.




  • The number of security forces have increased in the Gedo region of Jubaland, Somalia, and clashes in the vicinity of Belet Hawo have resulted in casualties and displaced civilians, causing international concern. 

South Sudan


  • Activists criticize the formation of Sudan’s committee tasked with purging remnants of the old regime. 
  • Sudanese lawyers filed a complaint to the Public Prosecutor regarding the detention of a human rights activist in Khartoum on 5 March. 
  • The Sudanese Lawyers Syndicate will set up a monitoring mechanism for human rights violations in prisons and detention centres in the country. 
  • Sudanese women activists call for amending the country’s Personal Status Law, which curtails women’s fundamental rights. 
  • Human Rights Watch criticizes UN and African Union plans to limit the UN’s protection role of civilians in Darfur. 


  • Nine members of Tanzania’s main opposition party, CHADEMA, were found guilty of sedition and unlawful assembly on 10 March. The sentences seem to form part of a larger strategy by the government to target its critics; 
  • Newspaper contributor Khalifa Said was dismissed by Tanzanian media house Mwananchi Publications after he criticised President Magufuli’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak, which raises further concerns over the civic and democratic space in Tanzania.  


  • On 4 March, freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker Moses Bwayo appeared before court, and was subsequently placed in custody. Bwayo was arrested on 24 February while filming a documentary about the opposition politician and popular musician Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine. 
  • Section 8 of Uganda’s Public Order Management Act was ruled unconstitutional, thereby strengthening the rights to peaceful assembly and public gatherings.