Updates from September 2021

Dear friends and colleagues,

September has been quite a busy month for us. Through our office in Geneva, we have since 13 September, been actively engaged in the 48th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC48) which runs until 8 October. You can read our oral statements to the council here.

Ahead of the session, we teamed up with other African and international civil society organisations to call upon the council to maintain scrutiny on Burundi, as we wait on the new leadership of President Everisto Ndayishimiye to put in place meaningful reforms that will restore the confidence of the international community in the country’s human rights situation.

We also maintained keen interest in Sudan’s human rights situation, and warned the HRC48 that the country’s transition was still too fragile, that the military’s relationship with civilian authorities was still too fractious for the country to be qualified as a human rights success and be let off the Council’s agenda.

Overall, the human rights situation in our focus countries did not get any better this month. In Uganda, the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (NCHRD-U) launched its first civic space index, in which 70% of respondents said the country’s civic space is narrowing. Matters have not been helped by a recent crusade by President Museveni against bail for capital offenders, which human rights defenders fear, will be another tool to use against political opponents.

Nonetheless, we have continued to engage with national coalitions of HRDs, training them and strengthening their all-round capacity to continue to push back against the narrowing of civic space in their respective countries, particularly focusing on HRDs’ digital and physical security, and wellbeing.

This month, we conducted trainings in security management, digital security and wellbeing in Somalia, Somaliland, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan, benefiting hundreds of HRDs.

In total we received 43 requests for emergency support from HRDs, 16 of which were approved. DefendDefenders will continue to support HRDs and push for the expansion of civic space in our focus countries and partner with like-minded organisations to pursue the same goals on the continent and all over the world.

Yours in solidarity, 

Hassan Shire

Executive Director, DefendDefenders

Chairperson, Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network

 

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Hassan Chichi Dawla

Doubly forced to become a refugee, Hassan Chichi Dawla has mobilized her rough experience into an organization to look out for and support other refugees to live less complicated lives. Originally from Sudan, in 2011, Dawla was forced to flee her home in the Nuba mountains, after heavy fighting broke out between the Sudan Armed Forces and an offshoot of Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) rebels in Sudan’s Southern state of Kordofarn. She moved further South into then newly independent South Sudan, only to be forced to flee again two years later in 2013, when rival factions of the SPLA led by President Salva Kiir and First Vice-President Riek Machar turned on each other, ushering in new instability in the country.

Updates from DefendDefenders:

  • DefendDefenders is taking an active part in the HRC48. HRC48 (13 September-8 October 2021) is a heavy session, with several East and Horn of Africa countries on the agenda, including Sudan, Burundi, Somalia, and Ethiopia.
  • Read our joint civil society letters on BurundiCameroon, and Sudan, as well as an opinion piece warning that the Council’s decision to drop its Sudan-focused resolutions is a premature move.  
  • On 28th September, as the HRC48 entered its third week with no draft resolution on Sudan’s human rights situation, DefendDefenders warned that any decision to let Sudan off the Council’s agenda would be premature, considering the disproportionate power still held by the country’s military. Read our full statement.
  • Read our oral statementsto the Council. They address a range of countries and issues.
  • AfricanDefenders used the occasion of African Union Day to call upon the African Union to use its authority to, once and for all, root out the causes of conflict and political conflict on the continent.
  • Read the joint statement by AfricanDefenders and DefendDefenders on the occasion of African Union day on 10th September
  • Ahead of HRC48, AfricanDefenders joined 37 other African and international civil society organisations to call for the council’s continued scrutiny of Sudan warning that Sudan’s democratic transition remained incomplete. Read their joint appeal to the council.
  • In September, the Protection and Security Management team conducted 6 trainings and there were no follow up activities.
  • From 1- 5 September, the team carried out a training in holistic security management and wellbeing for HRDs in Somaliland. 15 young HRDs benefited from the training, including 10 women and 5 men.
  • From 13- 18 September, DefendDefenders protection team trained a total of 15 Congolese HRDs -13 males and 2 females in physical and digital security, including an introductory session on wellbeing.
  • From 20 – 23 September, DefendDefenders trained Tanzanian HRDs in wellbeing and physical security.
  • On 22 September, the protection and Security Management team facilitated a wellbeing/team building session for DefendDefenders’s logistics team, benefiting six people.
  • From 27 September to 1 October DefendDefenders hosted a regional training of trainers for 12 HRDs from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Sudan, who were equipped with skills on how to conduct trainings.
  • On 17th September 2021, DefendDefenders facilitated a wellbeing Session for Defenders’ Coalition Kenya.
  • In total, between 1 -30 September, the protection team received 43 requests for emergency support, including five organisational support requests. Of these, 16 were approved, nine rejected, eight referred, while 10 remain pending.
  • DefendDefenders tech conducted two trainings in September, benefiting 28 HRDs.
  • From 1-2 September, DefendersTech staff participated in a panel discussion sharing our experience on adapting our digital security work to remote audits and trainings during the COVID-19 pandemic. The event brought together digital security auditors, trainers and other experts and practitioners. 
  • The tech team also facilitated two workshops on digital security, in conjunction with the security management team, benefitting 21 HRDs.
  • From 28-30 September, DefendersTech staff provided virtual digital security support to participants on the sidelines of the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica), organized by Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA). 

 

Call for applications

  • Finance Officer, DefendDefenders:Apply here:
  • Shelter City relocation program for at-risk human rights defenders: Apply here

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

Burundi

Ahead of the HRC48, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, in its fifth report, warned that there is “ample reason to remain concerned about the dire human rights situation in Burundi.” The report noted that despite the initial promise that followed the inauguration of President Everisto Ndayishimiye, grave human rights violations have continued to occur, and efforts to bring about meaningful change are yet to be seen.  

On 2 September, Reporters Without Borders condemned the “serious and dangerous remarks” made by Burundi’s president, Evariste Ndayishimiye, against an RFI journalist Esdras Ndikumana, whom he accused of tarnishing the country’s image by reporting a gloomy picture of the Covid-19 situation. The president had attacked the journalist twice, publicly, in less than two weeks, accusing him of “wanting to destroy Burundi.”

Ndikumana, who also works for AFP, is living in exile after being tortured by Burundian security forces in August 2015, among other things.

On 23 September, the country issued an international arrest warrant for exiled opposition politician and President of the country’s Movement for Solidarity and Development (MSD) party,

Alexis Sinduhije, accusing him of leading a group responsible for multiple “terrorist acts”.

Sinduhije lives in exile in Belgium, just like most of MSD’s top leadership, including its Secretary General, Francois Nyamoya who lives in Rwanda.

 

Kenya

The Kenya Film and Classifications Board banned broadcasting of a documentary; “I am Samuel,” which dramatizes love and intimacy in the LGBTQ community, calling it an intentional attempt to promote same sex marriage.

Kenyan law still criminalises sexual relations between persons of the same sex with up to 14 years imprisonment for what it describes as “canal knowledge against the order of nature.”

On 16th September, the European Union Parliament adopted a resolution expressing concern about reports of violence against refugees, especially members of the LGBTQ community in the country’s Kakuma camp. It urged the Kenyan Government to work with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to identify and resettle refugees in need of urgent protection.

Rwanda

On 20 September 2021, the High Court’s Special Chamber for Internal and Cross-border crimes convicted Paul Rusesabagina, a former anti-genocide hero turned government critic on charges of terrorism and sentenced him to 25 years in jail, in a trial Human Rights Watch said was heavily politically influenced, and abused Rusesabagina’s right to due process. 

 

Somalia

Somalia journalists’ groups Somali Journalists Syndicate and Somali Media Association condemned police violence and assault of 12 local and international journalists  who were covering protests demanding justice for missing National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) employee,  Ikraan Tahlil Farah, who was abducted on June 26 near her home in Mogadishu’s Abdulaziz district. The journalists accused police of using live ammunition against protestors, including confiscating, and destroying journalists’ cameras.

On 2 September, Somaliland police arrested journalist Mowlid Ismail Diged who reports for the facebook page Halbeeg Media for taking pictures of the police who were conducting forceful evictions of ethnic southern Somalis living in Lasanod city, formerly in Somaliland but which was later transferred to Puntland.  During the arrest, the police assaulted Mowlid, but released him that same day without charge.

 

Tanzania

On 24 September, Police arrested cartoonist Opptertus John Fwema from his home, in the Bunju area, Dar es Salaam and interrogated him six days later, in the absence of his advocate or family members.  Although police say it arrested Fwema for cyber offences, he is yet to be tried in court. His arrest came days after he published a political cartoon critical of President Samia Suluhu on his Instagram page.

On 28 September, the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders’ Coalition (THRDC) registered a cyber-attack, when a suspicious account hacked into the coalition’s official email and, impersonating the coalition’s National Coordinator Onesmo Paul Olengurumwa, sent out emails to the coalition’s members with the intention of hacking into their emails. It was the second time THRDC’s email was hacked into, the first occurring on 13th October 2020. The coalition suspects, the attacks are due to their human rights work.

Uganda

 

Two opposition legislators were arrested and charged with several capital offences including murder, attempted murder and aiding and abetting terrorism following a spate of killings in the country’s central district of Masaka that left 30 people dead. MPs Muhammad Ssegirinya and Allan Ssewanyana of the opposition National Unity Platform were consequently arrested and remanded. On 23 September and 27 September, the two MPs were released on bail respectively, only to be rearrested and charged with a fresh count of capital offences, for which they have been repeatedly denied bail. The denial of bail to the two MPs followed public comments by President Museveni in which he criticised the courts for granting bail to capital offenders, warning, “we shall not accept it.”   

In its inaugural Civic Space Index, 2021, the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Uganda found that freedom of expression and freedom of assembly were the most abused freedoms in Uganda. In the report launched on 30 September, 70% of those interviewed said Uganda was headed in the wrong direction regarding the safeguarding of key freedoms.

 

 

MORE NEWS:

Public statement to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on closing civic space

As the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights holds its 69th ordinary session, DefendDefenders and the South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network (SSHRDN), call on the government of the Republic of South Sudan to respect the rights of its citizens to peacefully assemble, associate, and express opinions and views, strengthen the legal framework that allows citizens and civil society organizations to form and operate without any hinderances.

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