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Updates from September 2019!

Dear friends and colleagues,

Earlier this month, I spoke with a human rights defender (HRD) exiled in Uganda for ten years. He has not seen his children since 2010. His crime was political activism and speaking truth to power in his home country. He has scars on his body reminiscent of the torture in prison. Sadly, his story is not unique.

Every year, many HRDs in the East and Horn of Africa sub-region flee into exile – forced to abandon their homes and livelihoods because their life is at risk. This month, as we brought together HRDs in exile in Uganda and stakeholdersto discuss protection strategies, I was reminded of the serious challenges we face in the sub-region. But simultaneously, it also illustrated the progress towards advancing human rights that we are observing and contributing to. Many Ethiopian HRDs, previously in exile, have returned home. Sudanese HRDs that were forced to flee during the revolution are returning. And later this year, the man I spoke with will join his family for the first time in nine years. 

As world leaders gathered for the UN Climate Action Summit this month, I was further reminded of the essential work of HRDs as agents of social and political change, including the fight against climate change. The voices of today are shaping our tomorrow; from HRDs in exile, like Moses Kabaseke, raising human rights awareness through his music, to William Amanzuru, fighting against illegal logging in his local community in Uganda, and Alaa Satir, fighting for women’s rights in Sudan through art. These voices are the cornerstone of human rights.

In light of this, DefendDefenders actively participated in the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC42), giving a platform to national activists to highlight the human rights situation in their respective localities. We will continue to promote and defend human rights as we attend the 65th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) in a few weeks.

Yours sincerely,

Hassan Shire
Executive Director, DefendDefenders

Human Rights Defender of the Month (Sept. 2019): Moses Kabaseke

Moses Kabaseke, a talented hip-hop artist and activist from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), was forced to flee to Uganda in 2013 – at only 16 years old. Kabaseke, known by his stage name Belidor, has produced music since he was a child. “I use music as a weapon – music has power. I use music to promote human rights.”

Moses Kabaseke refers to DRC as the rich country with the poor people. The continued violence in the country is accompanied by massive human rights violations and extreme poverty, as well as pillaging of the country’s natural resources. “Back home a life means nothing. In Congo, life is something that can be taken from human beings easily – there’s no justice,” he states. “It’s difficult for people that have not experienced atrocities to understand how that feels like. With my music, I try to capture the trauma and injustices experienced by so many.”

When he was only seven years old, his father was killed. “Every night when my mother was crying, I felt so bad. Since that age, I decided to fight for what was right.” In 2012, history repeated itself when his stepfather was killed before his eyes. At that point his mother had to make the difficult decision to leave home. In a quest to find safety, she brought her four children to Uganda.

Check out Moses Kabaseke’s music:

Moses Kabaseke has partaken in several trainings organised by DefendDefenders, and performed at DefendDefenders’ events.

Check out:

  • Call for applications: DefendDefenders seek an adaptable, inter-disciplinary, creative, and technically skilled Technology Program Associateto support the Ttaala program (previously DOC-IT). See more information. Deadline: 7 October 2019.
  • Call for applications: DefendDefenders calls for applications from Ugandan human rights organisations for the Ttaala program (previously DOC-IT) – a comprehensive skills-building project equipping HRDs with digital tools and strategies. See more information. Deadline: 6 October 2019.
  • Call for nominations: Civil Rights Defenders (CRD) calls for nominations for the Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award 2020. Nomination is by invitation only. See more informationDeadline: 29 October 2019.

Recommended reading:

  • Report: ‘The Taking of South Sudan’, The Sentry, September 2019. Read here.
  • Article: ‘Uganda’s forests are disappearing. He’s fighting back,’ The Christian Science Monitor, September 2019. Read here.
  • Report: The Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, September 2019. Read here.
  • Report: The Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, August 2019. Read here.

Updates from DefendDefenders: 

  • On 12 September, DefendDefenders organised a Dialogue Between Protection Stakeholders and Human Rights Defenders in Exile in Uganda, welcoming E. Ambassador Henk Jan Bakker of the Dutch Embassy in Kampala, alongside other protection stakeholders. The dialogue, which was a follow-up of the first interactive dialogue held in December 2016, aimed to re-assess the state of protection services for HRDs in exile in Uganda, and their resilience strategies;
  • DefendDefenders attended a workshop in Juba, South Sudan, organised by Justice Africa and Goldsmith’s University of London. The meeting brought together paralegals from across the country focusing on thematic issues such as court observation and customary litigation, especially in rural areas, where people have minimal access to the justice system;
  • Between 22-26 September, DefendDefenders co-hosted a digital security helpdesk for participants of the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in addition to carrying out a training for Ethiopian and Sudanese activists, including journalists and media practitioners;
  • In September, DefendDefenders organised three security management trainings for HRDs, in addition to a follow-up security training for women HRDs (WHRDs) in the east and north-eastern regions of Uganda;
  • On 17 September, DefendDefenders carried out a security assessment for a Ugandan organisation working to combat human trafficking and enabled the organisation to re-evaluate and restructure their security practices;
  • DefendDefenders hosted a digital security training for a LGBT+ organisation in Uganda from 16-19 September;
  • Throughout September, DefendDefenders gave anti-virus and VPN licenses to several Tanzanian media organisations; and
  • DefendDefenders received ten protection support requests. Five were extended support, three were referred to likeminded organisations, and two did not meet the criteria.

DefendDefenders at the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council

We took an active part in HRC42, in Geneva, Switzerland, between 9-27 September 2019. The session witnessed a record number of resolutions adopted by the Council for a September session: 38. DefendDefenders successfully advocated for the adoption of resolutions on Burundi, Sudan, and Somalia, as well as co-organised side events on Sudan and Burundi.  

Read our HRC42 reflections and press releases on Burundi and Sudan

Updates from AfricanDefenders:

  • AfricanDefenders conducted a mission to Cameroon to design advocacy strategies with their local partners;
  • On 25 September, AfricanDefenders hosted a panel on the relocation of at-risk HRDs with a focus on the Ubuntu Hub Cities initiative at FIFAfrica in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia;
  • Together with the Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN), AfricanDefenders publish a joint statement condemning the violence against foreign nationals in South Africa; and
  • In September, five HRDs applied for support under the Ubuntu Hub Cities initiative. Two were extended support, and one was referred to a likeminded organisation.

Updates from the East and Horn of Africa:


  • Prior to HRC42, several human rights organisations called for the extension of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) onBurundi, joining DefendDefenders’ call. The resolution extending the CoI mandate for another year was adopted at the session.
  • Since May 2018, severe human rights violations has been carried out in Burundi, according to a recent report by the CoI.
  • Evariste Mfaume, a human rights activist from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) who was awarded the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award for Africa, continues to protect Burundian refugees in DRC, as well as to report on human rights violations perpetrated in Burundi, DRC, and Tanzania.
  • Burundian peace activist and musician Jean Pierre Nimbona, known as Kidum, received a warning from the government of Rwanda that he is only allowed to make private visits to the country. Kidum was supposed to perform at the upcoming Kigali Jazz Fusion festival. During Burundi’s civil war between 1993 and 2003, Kidum was a leading peace activist, using his music to call for reconciliation.
  • Burundian civil society organisations (CSOs) called on the UNHCR to intervene to stop forced repatriation of Burundian refugees currently in Tanzania. The call comes after a repatriation agreement was signed between Tanzania and Burundi on 24 August 2019 to organise voluntary or forced return of refugees starting in October.


  • Eritrea is the world’s most censored country, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The analysis examined tactics ranging from imprisonment and repressive laws, to surveillance of journalists and restrictions on Internet and social media access.
  • Veronica Almedom,an Eritrean-Swiss activist promoting the rights of Eritreans, called for enhanced communication and information work to counter the human rights violations in the country.
  • September 2019 marked the 25th anniversary of the imprisonment of three Jehovah’s Witnesses in Eritrea, who reportingly have been tortured and held incommunicado. The reason for their imprisonment was allegedly based on their refusal to carry out military service. In addition, 39 men and 10 women, also Jehovah’s Witnesses, are currently imprisoned.


  • On 6 September, Maekelawi prison was opened for the first time to the public. The infamous police station held thousands of political prisoners under the previous regime. Befekadu Hailu, a rights activist and a former inmate, imprisoned for 84 days in 2014 without charge, visited the centre, recalling horrible memories of torture and violence.
  • On 13 November, a referendum on the Sidama ethnic groups’ request for statehood will be held. This may result in the country, which is based on ethnic federalism, getting one more autonomous regional state within its borders.
  • Speaking at a conference in Addis Ababa, an Ethiopian Orthodox Church group condemned homosexuality in the country, stating that the government is indirectly supporting the Ethiopian LGBT+ community through its “indifference.”
  • Last year, water sanitation activist Martha Gebeyehu was selected the winner of the Oklahoma University International Water Award, which she officially received at the 2019 OU International Water Conference in September.
  • Asix-day peace festival, with the aim to promote peace, national unity, democracy, and justice took place in September in Addis Ababa. 


  • Salma Hemed, a Kenyan activist and the Deputy Executive Director of Haki Africa, was assaulted in the immigration office in Mombasa. She suffered head, neck, and back injuries.
  • Kenyan authorities have failed to properly investigate abuses by security officials during the forced evictions of thousands of people from Mau Forest earlier this year, and are planning further forced evictions, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). The human rights organisation condemned the evictions and called for investigations and accountability.
  • Prior to the UN Climate Action Summit, hundreds of Kenyan activists joined a protest, organised by human rights organisations, demanding Kenyan leaders do more to combat climate change and protect the environment. Recently, Kenyan
    activists successfully blocked a Chinese-backed coal plant near a world heritage site.
  • This month, the National Examinations Council issued Audrey Ithibu Mbugua a new Kenyan Certificate of Secondary Education certificate after altering the gender marker box from male (m) to a variable character denoted as one (1).


  • On September 23, Syldio Dusabumuremyi, the national coordinator of the opposition Forces démocratiques unifiées (FDU)-Inkingi party, was stabbed to death by unidentified attackers. The murder is the latest in a wave of killings and disappearances of opposition supporters in a country where an authoritarian government maintains a tight grip on power. Human rights organisations condemned the murder.
  • Recently, there has been an increase in victims calling out their sexual assaulters on social media, especially Twitter – attracting mixed reactions. Activists stressed that the rape culture in Rwanda thrives on social expectations and silence, and called for an open dialogue and action to combat the issue of sexual violence.
  • This month, South Africa’s National Prosecution Authority issued arrest warrants for two Rwandans accused of murdering the Rwandan political activist Colonel Patrick Karegeya in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 1 January 2014.


  • On 31 August, the security minister of Jubaland, Abdirashid Hassan Abdinur, was arrested for serious crimes at Mogadishu airport. The arrest underscored tensions with the federal government, as Jubaland’s administration called the arrest “illegal” and a “kidnapping.” Amnesty International stressed that this could be a significant step towards accountability for the serious human rights violations committed with impunity in Somalia.
  • The health of Ismail Sheikh Khalifa, the human rights journalist who was badly injured in a bomb explosion planted in his car on 4 December 2018 in Mogadishu, remains critical. Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) called for immediate medical support for Khalifa.
  • Six UN Security Council (UNSC) members blocked a bidby Kenya to impose additional counterterrorism sanctions on the Islamist armed group Al-Shabab in Somalia, as it would jeopardise the delivery of humanitarian aid at a time when more than twenty percent of the population face severe hunger.


  • This month, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) organised a civil-military dialogue in Jonglei, following growing concerns over human rights violations in the area. The dialogue gathered civil society representatives and armed forces to discuss how cooperation can be enhanced to prevent further human rights violations.
  • A missing case file is blocking appeals in sexual assault and murder cases from 2016. In 2018, 10 soldiers were convicted for the sexual assault and rape of at least five aid workers and the murder of a journalist during the attack on the Terrain Hotel, but the Supreme Court is unable to move forward without a specific case file – last seen when it was sent to President Salva Kiir in 2018.
  • Disruptions caused by the effects of South Sudan’s armed conflict have paralysed the judicial system. In an attempt to overcome this challenge, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), among other actors, have set up a mobile court which is touring the country. The mobile court is expected to expedite 88 cases, 48 of which are under the jurisdiction of the high court and the rest will be tried at the magistrate level.
  • During the UN Climate Summit, the 24-year old South Sudanese activist
    Emmanuel Mobijo called for action to combat climate change, pointing to the scarce rainfall in his home country.


  • On 26 September, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, and Sudan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Asma Mohamed Abdalla, signed a milestone agreement to open a UN Human Rights Office in Sudan. The signing ceremony took place during the high-level week of the UN General Assembly in New York, USA. Apart from Khartoum, field offices to safeguard citizens’ rights will also be opened in Darfur, Blue Nile, Southern Kordofan, and eastern Sudan.
  • Human rights actors called on the newly established national investigation committee, which will investigate the human rights violations in Sudan since December 2018, particularly the 3 June massacre, to ensure transparency, and to incorporate findings from competent sources and provide strong recommendations to ensure accountability.
  • Environmental activists in the Nuba Mountains, backed by the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA),continue to protest the environmental damage caused by chemicals used to extract gold in the area. The gold mining companies are militia-backed and operating unregulated.
  • Sudanese civil society continue to use art as a tool of activism. Sudanese activist and artist, Mohamed Ambadi, says artists give a vital and honest expression of the revolution, as well as archiving history.
  • Women demand more freedom, equality, and a bigger role in politics in new Sudan. Civil society has also taken the lead in the fight against sexual violence – a deep-rooted, persistent problem in the country.
  • rts and continue to call for a society free of single-use plastics.


  • African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights sent a joint letter of appeal to Tanzanian President John Magufuli regarding the arrest of Erick Kabendera, a Tanzanian journalist arrested on 29 July, upon request by the International Press Institute (IPI). Kabendera could face up to five years in jail without trial, and despite declining health conditions and lack of evidence to support the charges- the authorities have refused to release him. Human rights actors continue to call for his immediate and unconditional release through the hashtag #FreeErickKabendera.
  • On 1 June, the Tanzanian government banned the use of plastic bags – joining 33 other African nations in an effort to put an end to single-use, disposable plastic products. Environmental activists have been leading the efforts and continue to call for a society free of single-use plastics.


  • Members of the Parliament (MPs) in the Parliament Committee of Human Rights in Uganda criticised the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) for not doing enough for victims of torture.
  • The U.S. Treasury froze all assets in the United States owned by the former inspector general of Ugandan police, Kale Kayihura, accusing him of engaging in serious human rights abuses in Uganda.