Updates from November 2021

Dear friends and colleagues,

November started on a promising note, after the UN Human Rights Council, at our and our colleague civil society organisations’ urging, on 5 November 2021 held a special session to assess the human rights implications of the 25 October military coup in Sudan, and adopted a resolution reinstating Sudan on the council’s agenda.  We continue to monitor the human rights situation in the country closely, following the restoration of the civilian government led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok on 21 November 2021.

Further East, in Ethiopia, following a damning report  by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that found all parties to the Tigray conflict have violated international human rights law, we together with Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P), urged the UN Human Rights Council to hold a special session on Ethiopia and establish an investigative mechanism to bring to light past and ongoing human rights violations.

With reports of growing harassment of civil society actors and organisations in South Sudan, including closing of their bank accounts, we mobilised regional and international civil society actors and jointly called for the unfreezing of civil society actors and organisations’ bank accounts in a public statement signed by 46 regional and international organisations.

Overall, DefendDefenders continues to diligently and dutifully monitor the human rights situation in the East and Horn of Africa sub-region, particularly looking out for human rights defenders (HRDs) who make daily sacrifices for freer societies, and push national governments to live up to their national and international human rights commitments.

Our tech and protection teams continued to avail themselves to the service of HRDs, providing emergency support and critical trainings in digital and physical safety and security. This month, we held a three-day workshop for protection officers from our focus countries in Kampala, designed to strengthen collaboration and best practice sharing among the various national coalitions. We also became a member of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICR2P)), which is hosted by GCR2P.

By the end of the month, we had received 65 requests for emergency support from HRDs, and we approved 19 of them – 12 from Male HRDs and five from female HRDs. We will continue to offer support to HRDs to the extent possible, because we know that their sacrifice as frontline actors in the cause of defending human rights for all is invaluable.

Yours in solidarity, 

Hassan Shire

Executive Director, DefendDefenders 

Chairperson, Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Fadwo Hassan Jimale

Women in Somalia are not supposed to be ‘loud.’ Historically, conservative religious traditions combined with a resilient patriarchal system ensured that women in the coastal nation remain veiled and meek, always in the shadow of their husbands.

Not so for Fadwo Hassan Jimale, Somalia’s crusading human rights defender. As a ranking member of Somalia’s Women Human Rights Defenders Coalition, Fadwo and her colleagues host regular capacity building sessions for current and emerging women human rights defenders (WHRDs).

Updates from DefendDefenders:

  • Following the UNHRC resolution that reinstated international scrutiny of Sudan’s human rights situation, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle  Bachelet designated Adama Dieng as an expert on human rights in Sudan.
  • Ahead of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Tanzania, we released a statementhighlighting the need for the Tanzanian government to use the UPR to renew its commitment to civic space. During the review, a number of states made recommendations on civic space and took up recommendations formulated by CIVICUS and DefendDefenders in a report.
  • AfricanDefenders virtually hosted the NGO forum for the participation of NGOs at the 69th session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR69), where we gave an overview of the human rights situation in East and Horn of Africa and the rest of the continent;
  • Through AfricanDefenders, we launched the #KnowYourRights campaign- an online campaign disseminating key principles of ACHPR’s guidelines on the freedom of assembly
  • In November, the Protection and Security Management team conducted 2 workshops
  • From 10 – 12 November 2021, DefendDefenders Protection team held a three-day workshop for Protection Officers from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Southern Africa, Ethiopia, and Burundi to network, share good practices as well as sharing tips for wellbeing of the officers. Among the 40 HRDs, 21 were women and 19 were men. 
  • From 1- 3 November 2021, the Protection and Security management department held refresher training for 13 HRDs in Ethiopia (seven male and six female), who had earlier been trained in August 2021. 
  • DefendDefenders received a total of 65 requests for emergency support from HRDs this month, 19 of which were approved. Of the approved, 12 were from Male HRDs, five from Female HRDs, one was organisational support, and one was from a transgender. Of the remaining 46, 30 requests were rejected, six were referred,  and 10 are still pending.

 

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

Ethiopia

According to Amnesty International, a new wave of targeted arrests begun since the Parliament endorsed the state of emergency on 4 November 2021. Amnesty reported that security forces had targeted and arbitrarily arrested ethnic Tigrayans. The state of emergency grants the authorities powers to “arrest and detain anyone without a warrant if there is reasonable suspicion of cooperation with terrorist groups.” 

 

On 26 November 2021, the Ethiopian government issued fresh restrictions against the media reporting on the on-going  conflict in Tigray. The new restrictions stipulate that update on the conflict can only come from the government. No clarification was given regarding the consequences of publishing the information.  

Kenya

On 23 November 2021, the Non-Governmental Organisation Coordination Board urged the Supreme Court to reject the registration of the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission as an NGO on the basis that it would “erode family values” and “harm society.” The NGO Coordination Board requested the Supreme Court to overturn the decision made by the Court of Appeal, which upheld a 2015 High Court decision compelling it to register the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. The NGO Coordination Board argued that the registration is a violation of Section 13 of the NGO Act.  

 

Rwanda

The High court sentenced Dieudonne Niyonsenga a Rwandan YouTuber who criticised the government to seven years in prison. The court found Niyonsenga guilty on four charges, including forgery, impersonation, and humiliating state officials and fined him five million Rwandan francs ($4900). 

Somalia

Police officers fired live bullets and blocked a group of journalists from covering a story on the suicide car bomb in Hodan District, Mogadishu. The officers allegedly threatened to shoot journalists if they did not leave the scene. 

A flight carrying journalists was shot-at  while arriving at Somalia’s  Garbaharey Airport in the country’s Gedo region. The group of journalists were travelling to cover the effects of drought in the country, which the Somali Government has declared a humanitarian emergency.  No casualties were reported.

 

Sudan

 

On 7 November 2021, Sudanese security forces fired tear gas and arrested protestors in Khartoum, and other cities who joined a call for two days of civil disobedience and a strike  against the coup. Since the 25 October military coup in the country, 14 protestors have been reported killed, and over 300 were reportedly injured. 

In a separate incident, security forces, including police and the military, violently dispersed a sit-in called by the teachers’ association in northern Khartoum. Security forces fired teargas, assaulted protestors, and arrested at least 87 teachers 

Uganda

 

On 11 November 2021, the Magistrate court remanded Drone Media journalist Pidson Kareire on offensive communication and criminal libel charges. The prosecution alleged that the Kareire used “electronic communication on WhatsApp to post content offensive in nature”. His lawyer claimed that Kareire was tortured under detention and required urgent medical attention. 

 

MORE NEWS:

Human Rights Defender of the month: Esther Tawiah

In Ghana, Esther Tawiah is one of the loudest voices for women empowerment and gender. It is also why she is one of the most loathed. Born and raised in New-Tafo in the country’s eastern region, Esther grew up surrounded by a culture that frowned at the idea of women participating in public affairs, and witnessed firsthand, the backlash those who dared to challenge that cultural norm faced.

“I grew up in a society where ageism and sexism were so entrenched. As a young person, you weren’t supposed to give your opinion on public issues, especially if you were a woman. Women who dared to speak up were caricatured and branded as frustrated, unmarriageable prostitutes, all designed to shut them up,” she says.

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