Updates from October 2022

Dear Friends,

October is usually a busy month for us at DefendDefenders, signaling the beginning of the last quarter of the year.

Early in the month, we concluded participation in the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council(HRC51), which lasted from 12 September – 7 October. The session was critical in maintaining scrutiny of the human rights implications of Russia’s war in Ukraine, and closer to home, on the human rights situation in Somalia, Burundi, and Ethiopia. Read my full reflections on the session.

From the HRC51, we participated in the 73rd ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR73) and the NGO forum(#ForumAchpr73) preceding it, where we also supported 27 human rights defenders (HRDs) from all over the continent to participate.  On the sidelines of the session, we hosted focus-group discussions on the human rights situation in Sudan, South Sudan and on the situation of artistic freedom on the continent.

On the regional front, we convened the 4th General Assembly for the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (EHAHRD-Net), which brought together human rights defenders from 11 member countries and 75 development partners to reflect on the human rights situation in the region and chart an appropriate way forward. Over the course of two days,  the Assembly discussed and adopted a plan of action for the next five years and elected a new chairperson of the Network, Kenya’s Kamau Ngugi. I congratulate ndugu Kamau and wish him a successful tenure of office.

Finally, as we concluded the month, I joined over 250 advocates and activists for democracy from all over the world for the 11th World Assembly of Democracy(WM11Assembly) in Taipei, Taiwan. As a steering committee member of the World Movement for Democracy, I used the opportunity to highlight the far-reaching impact of Russia’s war in Ukraine on food systems especially in Africa, and argued that as a result, Russia bears direct responsibility for the hunger and famine crisis currently ravaging many parts of the continent. Watch a summary of my remarks.  

Despite the busy schedule at regional and international mechanisms, our core work with protection of HRDs did not stop. We continued to train HRDs and to equip them with necessary skills to combat ever evolving personal and work security threats, the details of which you will find in the ensuing pages of this newsletter.

We also continued to devote resources to securing HRDs at risk. As at the month’s end, we had received a total of 47 requests for emergency support from HRDs, of which 16 (34%) were approved (eight Male, seven Female, and one from a human rights organisation).  11 (24%) requests were referred to various partner organizations, 16 (34%) requests were rejected, 2 (4%) requests were withdrawn, and 2 (4%) requests are still pending verification.

I invite you to interact with more of our month’s work

Hassan Shire,

Executive Director, DefendDefenders

Chairperson, African Defenders

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Mohammed Adam Hassan

On October 7, 2022, Kamau Ngugi was elected Chairperson of the East and Horn of Africa human rights defenders’ network (EHAHRD-net), a stirring affirmation for the Kenyan human rights defender’s efforts in defense of human rights that go back nearly 30 years.

Opportunities and Recommended Readings:

AfricanDefenders Shield Awards: Call for Nominations

Reporters Without Borders Reporting Fellowship for Journalists: Call for Applications

Updates from DefendDefenders

  • From 3-7 October, DefendDefenders conducted a digital security training for Women human rights defenders (WHRDs) under our SafeSisters program, benefiting 10 WHRDs.
  • From 10 – 12, DefendDefenders trained 13 HRDs – eight female, five male, in combating misinformation and disinformation.
  • From 10 – 14 October, DefendDefenders conducted a training of trainers in digital security, benefitting 12 participants, eight male and four female.
  • From 17 – 21 October 2022, DefendDefenders trained six participants – three male and three female, from six organisations in resource mobilisation and organisational management.
  • From 24 – 28 October 2022, DefendDefenders trained 15 Journalists from different media houses in Uganda in physical and digital security. Of the 15, six were female and nine were male.
  • From 26 – 28 October, DefendDefenders conducted an online training for 16 Burundian Human Rights Monitors, nine of whom were female and seven male.
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  • We concluded the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC51) with the adoption of resolutions on Ethiopia, Burundi, and Somalia. They all extended existing mandates: of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE), of the Special Rapporteur on Burundi, and of the Independent Expert on Somalia.
  • In spite of the opinion piece Hassan Shire, Estella Kabachwezi and Nicolas Agostini published in Just Security, Sudan’s candidacy for a second term on the HRC was successful. This highlights the bad practice of “closed slates” (or “clean slates” – presenting the same number of candidates as there are seats available for the regional group) particularly for the African Union.
  • We now have a “DefendDefenders in the media” section on our website, highlighting examples of our media presence. In September and October 2022, building on our report, “Between Principles and Pragmatism,” we stressed how African states’ votes are and will continue to be key in multilateral arenas like the HRC.
  • Ahead of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Burundi, we submitted a report highlighting civic space issues and recommendations.
  • DefendDefenders and AfricanDefenders participated in the 73rd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (#ACHPR73) and the NGO Forum (#ForumAchpr73) where they jointly called upon the commission to be more assertive in demanding for enforcement of its recommendations and accountability from state parties for human rights violations. Read our full statement.

Country Updates:

Burundi

On the first anniversary of their arrest, 65 organisations including DefendDefenders called for the immediate and unconditional release of Iwacu journalists Agnès Ndirubusa, Christine Kamikazi, Egide Harerimana and Térence Mpozenzi. The four were convicted on October 22, 2019, with their driver and charged with endangering state security for daring to report on clashes between security authorities and rebels in Bubanza province.

The European Union lifted sanctions against three of Burundi’s leaders including the country’s Prime Minister, as part of the regional bloc’s continued engagements with the country’s leadership to improve Bujumbura’s human rights situation. The three – Prime Minister Gervais Ndirakobuca, Godefroid Bizimana, a senior adviser in the president’s office, and Leonard Ngendakumana, a former senior military official were part of the officials slapped with a travel ban and asset freezes by the EU, for their role in the country’s 2015 political crisis.

Ethiopia

 Ethiopia continued to deteriorate in the world Rule of Law rankings, ranking 123 out of 140 countries according to the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law rankings released on October 25. The ranking means Ethiopia fell one rank lower than it fared in last year’s rankings, an indictment on the country’s human rights record as it continues to battle conflict in its Northern region of Tigray.

A new report by Amnesty International implicated the Eritrean military in a new wave of extra-judicial killings in Ethiopia’s region of Tigray.  “Between 6-12 September 2022, the Eritrean army, which is allied with the ENDF(Ethiopian National Defense Forces), extrajudicially executed at least 40 people, including Eritrean refugees, in Sheraro town,” the report reads in part, before warning of the likelihood of new atrocities, following renewed clashes that saw the ENDF declare it had captured the major town of Shire in north-western Tigray.

Kenya

 New Kenyan President William Ruto announced that he had dissolved a police unit notorious for wanton abductions and extra-judicial killings, in a move hailed by rights groups. The Special Sevice Unit (SSU), a specialized arm of the country’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations had come into spotlight in the latter years of former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration as cases of unexplained disappearances of people and extrajudicial killings of others increased.

In an unprecedented move, Kenya’s Directorate of Criminal Prosecutions announced that it would charge police officers involved in extra-judicial killings of protestors in the aftermath of the 2017 elections with crimes against humanity. The charges which cover rape, murder and sexual violence will be the first cases under crimes against humanity tried under Kenyan law as the country moves to hold to account those responsible for the 2017 post-election math that included the killing of a six-month old baby.

Rwanda

 Rwanda’s high court acquitted three journalists who had been on trial for four years on charges of inciting insurrection, spreading false information with the intent to create a hostile international opinion of Rwanda and of publishing fake statements and pictures, in a case rights groups derided as a sham. The three journalists — Damascene Mutuyimana, Shadrack Niyonsenga and Jean Baptiste Nshimiyima working for Iwacu TV — a YouTube channel, were arrested in October 2018 during a crackdown on YouTubers critical of President Paul Kagame’s government. On October 5, a three-man bench sitting in Kigali acquitted the accused, arguing that the prosecution had failed to prove the charges.

Somalia

The Committee to Protect Journalists called for the immediate and unconditional release of Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, the Secretary General of Somalia’s Journalists group Somali Journalists’ syndicate (SJS) who was arrested by Somalia intelligence authorities on October 11. Mumin’s arrest followed a press conference he and SJS called to reject the government’s directive that journalists stop covering activities of terror group Al-Shabaab, a directive the SJS said undermines press freedom . Following the arrest of Somali Journalists Syndicate leader Abdalle Mumin, Somalia Prime Minister Hamze Abdi Barre warned that the government would continue to clampdown on media that insists on reporting on terrorist group Al-shabaab’s activities, arguing that it was tantamount to promoting terrorist ideology. “There is nothing called freedom. There is nothing called media freedom. They [journalists] are reporting the fight and the towns the terrorists captured and still they are using journalism as a cover up. We will not allow that,” he warned.

South Sudan

On October 3, the South Sudan government commenced trial of Kuel Aguer Kuel and six other activists of the People’s Coalition for Civic Action, a pressure group that gained zdistinction for its sustained calls for political reform through peaceful protest. Kuel was arrested in August 2021, and he together with his six co-accused who fled the country were jointly charged with crimes against the state, a charge that would see them face up to 20 years in prison upon conviction.

The UN Commission of Experts on Human Rights in South Sudan called for “urgent action” to implement the country’s 2018 Revitalized Peace Agreement, noting that “Every new extension of the timelines for implementation of the peace agreement, and indeed every passing day of inaction, means not just time lost, but lives lost.” Among other things, the peace agreement provides for a credible truth and justice process, which rights groups argue is key to ending rights violations and holding perpetrators accountable.

Sudan

The Sudan government shut down the internet that affected extended cellphone and fixed line connections ahead of planned pro-democracy protests to mark the 1st anniversary of  last year’s October 25 coup that derailed the country’s transition to civilian rule. The internet shutdown that lasted for eight hours disrupted communication across the country, in what internet freedom activists called a practiced tactic by the military authorities to frustrate legitimate exercises of civic expression.

Rights groups called for an immediate end to excessive use of force by Sudan’s security forces in responding to protests, noting that there would be a time of reckoning for those responsible for rights violations. The call by the International Federation for Human Rights, the African Center for Justice and Peace Studies, and Sudanese Human Rights Monitor came on the anniversary of the October 25 coup that overthrew the civilian transitional government last year, as protests continued in the capital Khartoum for a return to civilian rule.

Uganda

On October 13, President Museveni signed into law the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Act, 2022, under which those found guilty are liable to imprisonment of up to seven years and are barred from holding public office for up to 10 years. The law criminalises the publication of information likely to “ridicule, degrade or demean another person or group of persons” under the banner of hate speech, in what rights advocates have decried as further infringement on freedom of expression.

Uganda Police detained 9 people who gathered to protest the country’s planned East African Crude oil pipeline, a 1443km pipeline that is planned to cut through the country’s central corridor up to Tanzania’s port of Tanga. Environmental activists have complained that the pipeline threatens biodiversity and that there has not been sufficient compensation of the project-affected persons.

MORE NEWS:

Human Rights Defender of the month: Kasale Maleton Mwaana

Kasale’s human rights activism precedes his years. The son of pastoralist parents from Ngorongoro district in northern Tanzania, he grew up seeing his parents and entire community having to defend their land and way of life against authorities who thought their lands could be put to better use. Now, at 25, Kasale is already one of the most recognizable advocates of his people’s cause, much to the ire of Tanzanian authorities.
“Our people’s struggle goes back many generations. It started with the pushing out of our forefathers from Serengeti to gazette Serengeti National Park in 1959, and then further evictions from the Ngorongoro crater to gazette the Ngorongoro conservation area in 1975. Since then, every generation has had to resist further evictions. It’s now my generation’s turn,” he says.

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