Close this search box.

Updates from November 2019!

Dear friends and colleagues,

This month, the East and Horn of Africa sub-region tragically lost some of their finest human rights defenders (HRDs). The killing of Almaas Elman, the outstanding Somali-Canadian activist, in Mogadishu on 20 November, shock us all. It was a brutal reminder of the dangers linked to protecting and promoting human rights in Somalia. Elman was a dear friend, of both DefendDefenders and I. Just a few hours earlier, Med Kaggwa, the Chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission and the former Commissioner of African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), passed away. Like Elman, Kaggwa was a dear friend. The work of Elman and Kaggwa shall not be in vain.

On 2 November 2019, we joined the world in marking the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, and to call on governments to ensure justice for journalists and media workers. Journalists remain extremely vulnerable to risk in our sub-region – illustrated by the case of Erick Kabendera, a Tanzanian journalist whose case was postponed for the eighth time this month.

This month, we further raised concern over the disappointing voting record of Somalia at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). In 2019, Somalia aligned its vote with some of the world’s worst human rights abusers. As we prepare for the upcoming HRC sessions in 2020, we hope that Somalia’s delegation to the HRC will treat human rights considerations as paramount when voting on amendments and resolutions, rather than privileging political consideration.

On a positive note, DefendDefenders will end our year by organising our flagship-event, Claiming Spaces: Tactical Tools for Human Rights Defenders, and celebrate the Human Rights Day, in Ethiopia, where we are honoured to invite around 60 HRDs, and representatives from civil society, diplomatic missions, and state institutions. However, I wish to raise concerns with the spats of ethnic violence occurring around the country, where at least 89 people have been killed. I appeal to all Ethiopians to stop this unnecessary violence.

Lastly, it is with great honour that I received an award from Réseau des Défenseurs des Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC) in Cameron, in celebration of their tenth anniversary. I wish to extend my heartfelt congratulations to REDHAC for their outstanding work over the past 10 years.

Yours in Solidarity

Hassan Shire
Executive Director, DefendDefenders

Human Rights Defender of the Month (November 2019): Brenda Kugonza

Brenda Kugonza has fought for women’s rights in Uganda for more than 13 years, and is currently the Executive Director of Women Human Rights Defenders Network-Uganda (WHRDN-U). As one of the network’s founding members, her goal is to raise awareness and knowledge about women’s struggles, especially sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).“As a defender, you lose friends and family members – they don’t want to be associated with someone who brings them shame. We are viewed as women with bad manners and I struggle daily with discrimination,” she affirms.   

WHRDN-U was born from a call by women human rights defenders (WHRDs) who felt they needed their own network to articulate their needs and protection strategies. In coming together, they “created a sense of sisterhood,” Kugonza stress. WHRDN-U is key in “promoting a holistic feminist protection approach for at-risk WHRDs. The network has given us hope,” she continues. Due to lack of financial resources, however, she is at times forced to use her own money to ensure the women are protected. 

Did you know?

That DefendDefenders now has their Stand Up! Security Manual available in four Ugandan local languages? Check out the Stand-Up! in Acholi, Ateso, Luganda, and Runyakitara here.

Check out: 

  • Call for proposals: The African Internet Rights Alliance (AIRA) call for consultancy proposals to support their operation, strategic planning, and communications capacity building.
  • Call for interest: A call has been issued for the 2020 edition of the International Human Rights Training Program. The call is open to human rights educators, civil society organisations (CSOs), regional or national institutions, and government agencies.

Updates from DefendDefenders:

  • DefendDefenders held their annual staff retreat from 20-23 November 2019 in Entebbe, Uganda, where staff reviewed the past year, and identified plans for 2020;
  • DefendDefenders took part in the fourth annual African Judiciary Dialogue with the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The event, held in Kampala, Uganda, from 30 October to 1 November, brought together the judiciary from African Union (AU) member states;
  • DefendDefenders participated in the WanaData training on 13 November 2019, in conjunction with Pollicy and Code4Africa, to train women journalists and reporters in data and advocacy tools like Kobo Toolbox;
  • DefendDefenders participated in the Open Technology Fund Summit in Taiwan from 4-5 November 2019;
  • On 7 November 2019, DefendDefenders attended a workshop organised by Martin Roth Initiative (MRI) in Berlin, Germany, to discuss best practices in HRD temporary relocation;
  • DefendDefenders carried out a number of protection measures for HRDs, both organisations and individuals, including support to the family of a Burundian HRD in the process of applying for refugee status; a mission to Makerere University to assess the situation of a female student activist who was allegedly assaulted during a peaceful protest staged by female student activists; set out security planning for the organisation Joy for Children; gave technical support to International Refugee Rights Initiatives (IRRI), including fa general organisational risk assessment, specifically office security; and
  • In November 2019, DefendDefenders received 29 protection grant requests. Three were approved, two rejected, 17 referred to partner organisations, and seven are pending.

Updates from AfricanDefenders: 

  • AfricanDefenders welcomed Ubuntu Hub Cities coordinators from across Africa to a work to strengthen the local implementation of the initiative;
  • AfricanDefenders launched the JOBURG +20 report from the AfricanDefenders Convention, held in Zanzibar, Tanzania, which includes the reviewed Kampala Plan of Action (KAPA+10); and
  • AfricanDefenders attended the 10 year anniversary of REDHAC, where we presented their Executive Director, Maximilienne Ngo Mbe, with a resilience award. Hassan Shire, AfricanDefenders Chairperson, also received an award from REDHAC in recognition of his leadership.

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


  • The Burundian opposition politician, Marie Claire Niyongere, was allegedly sexually assaulted, and then killed. Niyongere was the deputy leader of the women’s wing of the main opposition Congress for Freedom (CNL) party in Kiganda commune.



  • Ethiopia’s Sidama people voted overwhelmingly to form their own self-governing region, as many of the country’s ethnic groups demand greater autonomy under sweeping reforms led by Prime Minister Abiy.
  • The Federation of Somali Journalists (FESOJ) condemned the threats and intimidation against a journalist in Ethiopia’s Somali region, after the journalist interviewed some opposition members who were critical to the Regional State leaders.
  • The Council of Ministers approved the Computer Crime Proclamation Bill, which, according to the Ministers, is aimed at preventing hate speech and dissemination of fake news. However, activists and oppositions claim the bill abuses free speech and access to information.
  • Bogaletch Gebre, one of the first women in Ethiopia to speak up against female genital mutilation (FGM), passed away on 2 November 2019. Gebre’s work included preventing FGM and bridal abductions, the practice of kidnapping, and rape of young women to force them into marriage.


  • Kenyan activists were barred from attending a meeting organised by Muslims for Human Rights (Muhuri), as the hosts, the Technical University of Mombasa, cancelled the meeting based on alleged security concerns. The meeting, slated for 2 November 2019, was meant to address the economic status of the country.
  • Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta signed the controversial Data Protection Bill into law. The Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), Nubian Rights Forum, and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNHCR) had each filed separate cases challenging the bill.
  • President Kenyatta has pledged to end FGM and child marriage by 2022. Kenyatta was among the African leaders who called for ending it at the International Conference on Population and Development in Nairobi from 12-14 November 2019.
  • The Kenyan census report has been seen as a victory for intersex persons living in the country, as it’s the first time the report recognises intersex people. According to the report, released by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), are there 1524 intersex people living in the country.
  • A video of police brutally, illustrating the attack on a student during a demonstration at the Jomo Kenyatta Institute of Agriculture and Technology, has elicited rage on social media. Amnesty International called for the investigation of police who carried out the attacks, while other human rights organisations claimed that this was proof that the recentpolice reforms had not been effective. The four police caught on camera have been suspended.
  • Kenya Human Rights Commission, the International Commission of Jurists-Kenya Chapter, and International Centre for Policy and Conflict, who challenged President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto’s eligibility during the 2013 elections, have been waved of a USD 1.7 million fine.


  • President Kagame, the East Africa Community (EAC) Chair, has cancelled the EAC Heads of State Summit slated for end of November 2019. The EAC has denied the recent reports that the scheduled meeting was postponed due to tension in the country.

South Sudan:

  • The government of South Sudan and the opposition postponed the creation of a unity government for 100 more days.President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar met in Entebbe on 7 November 2019 where they appealed to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development(IGAD) to extend the 12 November deadline. This is the third delay in South Sudan’s peace process.
  • In a statement published on 1 November 2019, Amnesty International expressed concerns that journalists are at riskahead of the establishment of the unity government. The statement comes in relation to the assault of two female journalists by a military officer.
  • Human Rights Watch has called for the release of Emmanuel Monychol Akop, the managing editor of The Dawnnewspaper, who was detained by the National Security Service (NSS) on 21 October 2019 in Juba, South Sudan. The rights group claims that the arrest is as a result of a Facebook post in which he made fun of a dress worn by the Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister, Awut Deng Achuil.
  • South Sudan has launched an action plan against sexual and gender based violence (SGBV), pledging speedy actions by the specialised groups of personnel formed to investigate these atrocities. A call to stand against SGBV spearheaded by UNFPA was also recently launched in the country.

Somalia and Somaliland

  • The killing of the prominent Somali-Canadian human rights activist Almaas Elman on 20 November 2019 has increased the security concerns in Somalia. It is still unknown who is behind the murder.
  • The Federation of Somali Journalists (FESOJ) has condemned the suspension of Horncable TV by the Somaliland Ministry of Information. The station was shut on 18 November 2019, the latest in a string of censorship of journalists and the media in Somaliland.
  • The Somali Journalist Syndicate (SJS) has condemned the harassment and beating of four Al Jazeera and Reuters journalists at Aden Adde International Airport. The police officers were later arrested in connection with the incident.
  • Somali Police officers, accompanied by employees from a private business, assaulted and beat up two TV reporters who were covering a protest by local traders against unpaid dues against Deero Group in Hargeisa.
  • At a forum, organised by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the AU and Somalia urged to end violenceagainst women and children in conflict.


  • Sudan postponed its peace talks until December 2019. Khartoum’s new transitional government began peace talks with several rebel groups in October 2019, after the ousting of former President al-Bashir and his forces in Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan. In addition, Sudan’s Forces for Freedom and Change Coalition (FFC) is urging the country’s government to hand over former President Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.
  • Sudan Sudan’s Minister of Information and Culture is filtering those media outlets set-up by officials of the former National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), according to a press statement released on 1 November 2019.
  • The Attorney General of Sudan, Tajelsir El Hibir, has called for the formation of a commission of inquiry to investigate the extrajudicial killing of army officers who led the ‘Ramadan coup’ in 1990.
  • Police in Port Sudan have issued night curfew after three people were killed and 24 others injured in tribal clashes after a political rally. It is not specified when the curfew will be lifted.
  • A new report by Human Rights Watch has claimed that the heavy-handed repression of the Sudan protests could amount to crimes against humanity. They called for justice for the 3 June 2019 massacre, where Sudanese security forces attacked protesters at a sit-in camp in Khartoum, reportedly killing more than 100 people.


  • A recent Human Rights Watch report indicated that the repression of the media, HRDs, and opposition parties has increased since 2015.
  • The court case against journalist Erick Kabendera, who has been in police custody since July 2019, has been postponed for the eight time.
  • Tanzania’s government spokesman, Hassan Abbas, issued a warning to local journalists about quoting foreign organisations and representatives in their reporting just a few hours after American and British diplomats released a statement criticising the process of the recent local elections in the country.
  • Maxence Melo, an online rights activist, was honoured by the Committee to Protect Journalist Press Awards, for his fight to give youth a voice, and offer a space for free expression, as well as his fight against corruption.
  • The legal marital age for women has been changed to 18 years. However, grave challenges to girls rights remain, as recent reports state that 200 girls have dropped out of school due to pregnancy.


  • Chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), Med Kaggwa, died on 20 November 2019. In his condolence message, President Yoweri Museveni described Kaggwa as a hard-working civil servant who always put his country before himself.
  • 67 people were arrested at a gay-friendly bar in Kampala and charged with “common nuisance.” Their lawyer, Patricia Kimera, dismissed the charges as petty, but said that they faced a maximum sentence of one year. According to Nicholas Opiyo, a human rights lawyer, police released 50 other people after a raid on the bar. On 17 November, Human Rights Watch called on the Ugandan police to stop the harassment of LGBT+ people in the country.
  • Uganda has banned 12,000 charities in a recent crackdown. HRDs raise concern that this could be an attempt to gag civil rights movements.
  • WHRDN-U has decried the increasing harassment by law enforcement officers saying some of their members have been forced to abandon their work. The activists are concerned that police disperse their gatherings on noble causes.
  • Eight journalists were detained by police on 4 November 2019, while attempting to present a petition opposing what they termed as police abuses.
  • In a statement on 4 November 2019, Human Rights Watch called for investigations and accountability of the police and military crackdown on students and journalists.
  • The UHRC has criticised the Uganda People’s Defence Forces Fisheries Protection Unit after the killing of two fishermen during an operation against illegal fishing on Lake Kyoga. Six other people were injured.