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Updates from October 2020

Dear friends and colleagues,

Election periods are critical for any democracy although often a challenging time in East and Horn of Africa sub-region, particularly for human rights defenders (HRDs). Last month, Tanzania held its general elections on 28 October amid a climate of fear and harassment that saw the re-election of President John Magufuli with 84 percent. Since 2015, we have documented the steady decline of the country into a state of repression, heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Leading up to the elections, we saw an unfavourable environment for public participation and free engagement in the political process. HRDs including journalists were gagged, opposition members and independent civil society targeted. I fully agree with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s strong warning that “further erosion of human rights could risk grave consequences, and I encourage immediate and sustained preventive action.” We will continue to monitor and document Tanzania’s human rights situation and stand in solidarity with Tanzanian civil society organisations.

Additionally, Uganda’s upcoming general elections scheduled for January 2021 have been characterised by pre-election violence this past month. After incidents of police violence against protesters and opposition supporters, we stand with the many voices calling to #EndPoliceBrutalityinUganda – a call gaining traction across the entire continent, since Nigeria’s #EndSARS protests.

Away from elections and its impact on HRDs, we advocated for an unprecedented number of resolutions – four – at the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council, which concluded on 7 October. Three country-specific resolutions (Burundi, Sudan, and Somalia) and one thematic resolution (on prevention of human rights violations) were adopted. Read my reflections on HRC45 to learn more about this fruitful session.

Yours sincerely,  

Hassan Shire
Executive Director, DefendDefenders

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Andrew Gole

Andrew Gole’s journey to become a human rights defender (HRD) was sparked by a small request: in 2015, a human rights organisation reached out to the trained software engineer about a digital security training. “I didn’t know much about the HRD eco-system or about digital security as an environment on its own,” Andrew says. “So, I did some research, and realised digital security support is just the basic support I used to provide in an internet café.” From there on, he started working with various civil society organisations and grassroots HRDs. In 2019, Andrew and a group of friends started Encrypt Uganda and the DIG/SEC Initiative, which both work on improving HRDs’ digital safety.

Despite growing up in an environment hostile to certain minorities, especially the LGBTI community, he has always pursued his own anti-discriminatory value system. “It’s very easy for me to work with the community and support them, because I reason differently from most people,” Andrew explains. Rather than focusing on how others are living their lives, he reasons that we should focus on ourselves and be our best version, without judging others.

Did you know?

  • That 331 HRDs benefitted from our protection grants in 2019? And that we strengthened 879 HRDs’ capacity? You can read more on our 2019 performance in our Annual Report 2019.

We are hiring!

  • Do you have an IT background and experience leading teams? Then apply to our full-time position as Technology Programme Manager based in Kampala.

Check out:

  • The UN Democracy Fund invites civil society organisations to apply for project funding until 1 December 2020. UNDEF particularly welcomes projects that address challenges to civic space and democracy as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.
  • Reporters Without Borders is offering a Rest and Refuge Scholarship for journalists from countries in crisis or war.

Updates from DefendDefenders:

  • At the 45thsession of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC45), DefendDefenders advocated for four resolutions. We are particularly content that upon a strong push by civil society, the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi was extended. While the Independent Expert on Sudan’s mandate was terminated, we salute the 6 October resolution highlighting the need for the Council’s engagement. We welcome the Council’s decision to maintain its support to, and scrutiny of, Somalia ahead of the historic 2021 elections. Lastly, we applaud the adoption of a milestone Council resolution on the prevention of human rights violations, echoing our call on states to use civic space indicators as objective criteria to assess human rights situations. Read Hassan Shire’s “Reflections” for more context;
  • On 22 October, we co-signed a letter highlighting systematic restrictions on fundamental freedoms in Tanzania, ahead of its elections;
  • On 10 October, together with AfricanDefenders we celebrated International Mental Health Day. Our well-being lead Karis Oteba shared advice for HRDs on the importance of investing in mental health;
  • On Africa Human Rights Day, 21 October, we introduced our departments and how they work to protect HRDs in a short video;
  • We hosted three meetings at the end of October with our Board of Directors, our development partners, and with the EHAHRD-NetRead our Final Communique;
  • DefendersTech conducted two organisational audits for two civil society organisations based in Kampala, Uganda and various trainings together with the protection team:
    • From 3-7 October for HRDs in Khartoum, Sudan, carried out by local partner Lawyers for Justice and Safe Sisters;From 4-8 October for WHRDs in Kordofan, Sudan and carried out by local partner Andariya and Safe Sisters;
    • From 14-16 October, a training in Monitoring, Documentation, and Reporting (MDR) in Kampala, Uganda;
    • From 19-23 October, a Training of Trainers in physical and digital security in Kampala, Uganda;
    • From 22-26 October for WHRDs in Burkina Faso and carried out by local partner Burkina Faso Coalition of Human Rights Defenders;
    • From 23-27 October for HRDs in Darfur, Sudan and carried out by local partner Lawyers for Justice and Safe Sisters; and
    • From 26-30 October for WHRDs in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo and carried out by local partner Partenariat pour la Protection Intégrée (PPI).
  • The Protection team carried out additional trainings:
    • From 3-7 October, follow-ups in Kiboga, Bulisa, Hoima and Kasese to deliver support in form of equipment and money;
    • From 3–7 October, training in Security Management for 17 HRDS in Darfur-Sudan;
    • 10 October participation in World Mental Health Day organised by Ice-Breakers Uganda and FEM Alliance Uganda;
    • From 12-16 October, in cooperation with National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Kenya for feminists;
    • On 23 October, in cooperation with eight environmental HRDs from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Nigeria, and Mali in Introduction to Risk Assessment; and
  • In October, the protection team received 44 requests for support. 35 were approved, three were rejected, five referred and one remains pending.

Updates from AfricanDefenders:

  • AfricanDefenders facilitated the annual East African Women Human Rights Defenders Network meeting, establishing the network’s first advisory committee;
  • Together with 37 other civil society organisations, we called on the Nigerian authorities to respect the freedom of assembly, in light of the #EndSARS protests. Together with 31 other civil society organisations and 89 human rights experts, AfricanDefenders also called on Nigeria’s judiciary to reinforce the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and civic participation;
  • Together with Scholar at Risk and the African Studies Association, we urged Ghanaian officials to withdraw the Public University Bill 2020 in respect for academic freedom and institutional autonomy;
  • On Africa Human Rights Day, we highlighted how our work contributes to the African Union’s 2020 theme of Silencing the Guns in Africa;
  • We attended the United Nations General Assembly side event on Final warnings: Death Threats against HRDs, organised by UN Special Rapporteur on HRDs, Mary Lawlor;
  • We participated in the Martin Roth Initiative digital workshop where they presented research on shelter and relocation for artists at risk in Africa and Latin America; and
  • We received seven applications for support under the Ubuntu Hub Cities Initiative, of which two were accepted and five are still under review.

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


  • Former Burundian MP Fabien Banciryanino and critic of late President Nkurunziza is in police detention for allegedly attempting to overthrow the government.
  • 15 Burundian CSOs call for a peaceful resolution of the crisis, in a letter to all head of states of the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region.
  • Burundi’s former President and current AU envoy to Sahel, Pierre Buyoya, has rejected a life sentence he received in absentia this week over the 1993 assassination of his successor, dismissing the case as a “sham”.
  • 22 October marked the first anniversary since the arrest of the Iwacu journalists – Agnès Ndirubusa, Christine Kamikazi, Egide Harerimana, and Térence Mpozenzi – who were convicted on charges against state security for simply doing their job. 65 organisations call for the immediate and unconditional release.


  • #PENPinterPrize winner Linton Kwesi Johnson announced Eritrean writer and editor Amanuel Asrat as the International Writer of Courage 2020. Asrat has not been seen or heard from in 19 years, since his arrest. He was the editor of the Zemen newspaper at the time. His family welcomes the award.
  • On 27 October, Reporters Without Borders filed a complaint in Sweden, accusing Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki and seven others of a crime against humanity by holding a journalist Dawit Isaak incommunicado since 2001.
  • A Canadian mining company settled in a court-case alleging charges of slavery in Eritrea.


  • The initial mandate for Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government expired on 5 October. Elections were postponed and the mandate prolonged due to COVID-19, a move opposition parties call anti-constitutional. The government has vowed to hold free, fair, and credible elections no later than a year from now. Northern Tigray in the meantime warned that they will stop recognising the federal government. Ethiopian lawmakers want to cut off contact with its leaders.
  • Ethiopia filed terrorism charges against four suspects over the killing of a popular political singer, Haacaaluu Hundeessaa, whose death ignited protests in which more than 178 people were killed.
  • After spending one night in police custody, renowned Ethiopian journalist Temesgen Desalegn was released on 15 October. The reason for his arrest is not yet known. The owner of a widely read magazine has been critical of Ahmed’s government.
  • Ethiopian authorities have banned peaceful protests against ethnically motivated killings which were due to take place on 28 October, in direct violation of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, reports Amnesty International.


  • Due to recent political-related violence, organisers of public gatherings must notify the police three days in advance. Media outlets were also warned against republishing speech deemed to incite hate or violence. The Kenya Media Sector Working Group has taken issue with the new directives.
  • The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) created an Occupy Parliament movement to force President Uhuru Kenyatta to dissolve parliament as advised by Chief Justice Maraga over its failure to implement the two-thirds gender rule. The protest lost force, when some members accepted a tea invitation by a parliament clerk.
  • Kenyan journalists Geoffrey Ondieki and Jeff Lekupe from Nation Media Group were hospitalised, after being assaulted by unknown assailants in Serelipi.


  • A court in Kigali has denied bail to Paul Rusesabagina, the polarising hero of the movie Hotel Rwanda, ordering he remains in custody to stand trial for serious charges, including terrorism.
  • On 20 October, Burundi and Rwanda’s foreign ministers unexpectedly met at the border, following years of diplomatic tensions and counter-accusations between the two nations. It’s the first high-level political meeting in five years. Political relations, trade and cross-border activities have almost frozen since then, affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of citizens.
  • The Rwandan education ministry says it will start inspections in schools to make sure pregnancy tests are no longer carried out on girls. Many schools participate in the discriminatory and unjustified practice of obliging girls to produce a negative pregnancy test result before being admitted to school.
  • Police in the Netherlands have arrested a man suspected of having been involved in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The 71- year-old, a former bank clerk and pharmacy owner from the capital, Kigali, is accused of drawing up a list of Tutsi to be killed. Rwanda has requested his extradition. The man claimed asylum in the Netherlands in the year 2000.



  • After being held incommunicado for six days, Radio Kulmiye journalist, Abdullahi Kulmiye Addow, was released on 22 October.
  • On 24 October, the Somali parliament approved the newly appointed cabinet by Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble.
  • The government of Somaliland suspended cooperation with UN agencies completely until further notice: all UN programs and all discussions and consultations relating to them are to cease immediately. The UN had previously demanded that the country’s political space remains open ahead of upcoming elections, highlighting the importance of freedom of expression, opinion, and assembly.

South Sudan

  • Starvation is intentionally used as a war tactic in South Sudan’s brutal conflict, a UN-backed human rights panel said on Tuesday, releasing its latest report on the country. On 5 October, a UN World Food Program convoy carrying food aid was brutally attacked.
  • A breakthrough was announced in talks between South Sudan’s government and the Opposition Movement Alliance, as a ceasefire was agreed on 14 October.
  • Officials call for a quick formation of a hybrid court to try war crimes, as agreed in the country’s peace agreement.


  • On 3 October, Sudan’s transitional government and several rebel groups signed a peace agreement aimed at resolving years of war. Two powerful rebel groups, however, did not sign.
  • Sudanese authorities say they’re ready to cooperate with the International Criminal Court over charges faced by the former President, Omar al-Bashir, and other ex-officials. Bashir has been charged with genocide and crimes against humanity. A delegation led by the ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is currently in Sudan, investigating the conflict in Darfur in the early 2000s.
  • People are back on the streets protesting dire living conditions in Sudan. Toward the end of the month, the government doubled the price of domestically produced fuels and more than quadrupled those of imported hydrocarbons. The move is aimed at reducing budget deficit and removing fuel subsidies but is expected to cause more anger across the country.


  • Tanzanian President John Magufuli’s government thwarted opposition politicians’ campaign efforts by selectively applying the law ahead of the 28 October national elections, according to Amnesty International. Opposition leaders were facing harrassment, arbitary arrest and intimidation from authorities, whereas the ruling party was allowed to campaign free and unhindered. A day ahead of the election, social media users experienced internet restrictions, difficulties accessing Twitter and WhatsApp, which still persisted days later.Few observers expected free and fair elections, Tanzania’s Election Watch worried about the election’s credibility.
  • On 28 October, Tanzanian president won a second term with 84% of the votes in his favour. There are reports of election violence in Zanzibar, and irregularities on the mainland. Tanzania’s electoral commission dismissed all allegations of fraud, while one opposition leaders has been arrested and another, Tindu Lissu, announced that he will not accept the election results.


  • On 14 October, NUP party headquarters were raided by military and police, who confiscated computers, and merchandise. According to candidate Bobi Wine, documents needed to secure his nomination to run for president were missing from his offices following the raid by security forces. TV stations in Uganda have also been banned from hosting politicians wearing red berets, the opposition’s signature headgear. The head of the media association of Uganda has said broadcasters will ignore the directive, as it has no legal basis.
  • WHRD Nana Mwafrika Mbarikiwa Nalongo was arrested and is in police custody at Kiira road police.
  • According to two French NGOs and Ugandan activists, tens of thousands of people in Uganda and Tanzania have been harmed by human rights violations linked to Total’s oil operations in Uganda. Total intimidated and failed to properly compensate local landowners, environmental safeguards were insufficient, and their projects disrupted access to education and healthcare, according to the activists who are seeking a court order for Total to disclose how it is addressing the alleged adverse impact of its activities.
  • On 22 October the hashtag #EndPoliceBrutalityInUganda trended on Twitter, with most users pointing towards recent incidents of police violence against protesters and opposition supporters. Attention was brought to the cause due to escalating pre-election violence and other anti-police brutality movements in Africa in the same week, most notably Nigeria.
  • The authorities in Uganda banned a coalition of more than 60 organisations formed to monitor the country’s 2021 general elections on grounds that it is illegal. The group was formed last month to promote electoral integrity, enhance citizen confidence and participation.


Human Rights Defender of the month: Leon Ntakiyiruta

As a child, Leon wanted to be a magistrate – whom he saw as agents of justice. Born in 1983 in Burundi’s Southern province, he came of age at a time of great social and political upheaval in the East African country. In 1993 when Leon was barely 10, Burundi was besieged by a civil war that would last for the next 12 years until 2005, characterized by indiscriminate violence and gross human rights abuses in which over 300,000 people are estimated to have died.In 2012, still struggling to find her footing in Kampala, Aida was introduced to DefendDefenders, where she was introduced to the organisation’s resource center, and assured, it (the center) would be at her disposal whenever she needed to use it.