The East & Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project.

Latest Stories

Don’t Shoot the Messenger! Journalists as Human Rights Defenders in the East and Horn of Africa

DefendDefenders examines the challenges journalists face, and provides an overview of the various strategies they have used to circumvent and continue their work amid these restrictions

2 November 2017
ACHPR61: State of human rights in Africa

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights – 61st session Banjul, the Gambia Read by Vital Nshimirimama Madame Chairperson, distinguished Commissioners, State Delegates, representatives of NHRIs and NGOs. On behalf of DefendDefenders, I would like to congratulate the African Commission on its 30 years of...

2 November 2017
ACHPR61: Updates from the East and Horn of Africa (May – October 2017)

In its biannual report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, DefendDefenders provides a six-month overview of events affecting the rights to freedom of association, expression, and peaceful assembly in the East and Horn of Africa sub-region, highlighting worsening, sustained and targeted attacks...

1 November 2017

We are DefendDefenders

DefendDefenders is the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project. We seek to strengthen the work of human rights defenders HRDs throughout the region by reducing their vulnerability to the risk of persecution and by enhancing their capacity to effectively defend human rights. DefendDefenders works in Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia (together with Somaliland), South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Featured Articles

Don’t Shoot the Messenger! Journalists as Human Rights Defenders in the East and Horn of Africa

DefendDefenders examines the challenges journalists face, and provides an overview of the various strategies they have used to circumvent and continue their work amid these restrictions

2 November 2017
Reflections on the 36th session of the UN Human Rights Council

Highlights from our advocacy efforts at the 36th session of the UN Human Rights Council

12 October 2017
STAND UP! Security manual for African human rights defenders

Our security manual provides key strategies that human rights defenders and civil society organisations can use to immediately improve their safety.

6 May 2017
Don’t Shoot the Messenger! Journalists as Human Rights Defenders in the East and Horn of Africa

DefendDefenders examines the challenges journalists face, and provides an overview of the various strategies they have used to circumvent and continue their work amid these restrictions

2 November 2017
STAND UP! Security manual for African human rights defenders

Our security manual provides key strategies that human rights defenders and civil society organisations can use to immediately improve their safety.

6 May 2017
Safeguarding Civil Society

A joint report with contributions from DefendDefenders' Technology team assesses Internet freedom and the digital resilience of civil society.

17 March 2017
DefendDefenders launches new website

Dear friends and colleagues, In 2015, when we celebrated the ten-year anniversary of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (then still abbreviated EHAHRDP), we decided it was time to give the organisation a new, fresh face under its new name: DefendDefenders....

29 August 2017
Hassan’s Blog: Free press at risk in the East and Horn of Africa

On World Press Freedom Day, I would like to take a moment to reflect on the ever-present and evolving threats facing journalists working in volatile political context, often thrust onto the front lines of human rights defence as they report on violations and abuses. While...

3 May 2017
A new year, a new DefendDefenders!

Dear friends and colleagues, 2016 has been a challenging year for human rights defenders across the African continent, where tectonic shifts on the global political landscape have directly impacted the work of human rights activists on the ground. DefendDefenders has been busier than ever, working...

16 December 2016

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This morning, DefendDefenders Executive Director Hassan Shire attended the IDEI East Africa Conference on National Mechanisms for Safety of Journalists, and offered opening remarks (see in full below) on the state of media rights in East Africa as provided by our latest publication "DON'T SHOOT THE MESSENGER! Journalists as Human Rights Defenders in the East end Horn Of Africa."

#ProtectJournalistsEA #EndImpunity

“I will never stop writing. The pen is our weapon; this is all that we have.”
– South Sudanese journalist

“It has become a struggle to break the silence and make sure the world knows what’s going on… you accept you may die”
– Burundian journalist

“I would receive warnings over the phone and in person harassment. They accused us of inciting violence and trying to disrupt the elections and listed my name as a terrorist.”
– Ethiopian journalist

“Threats are to make you silent and if you refuse they will terminate you.”

– Eritrean journalist

These four quotes were collected during our most recent research project on the role journalists play as human rights defenders in the East and Horn of Africa. My presentation is supposed to be on the state of the media in the East of Africa, and I am sad to say that this is the state of the media.

I am honored to be here with you today on this important occasion. A substantive dialogue between civil society, the media industry and governments in the sub-region is long overdue. I am glad to see that all these stakeholders are gathered here today to begin this important discussion on protecting the space for journalists.

My organisation, DefendDefenders, just released a report entitled “Don’t Shoot the Messenger”. You can find copies here or on our website. The report finds that in this region, the act of reporting on events becomes an act to defend human rights. In the information battlefield that has become this region, journalists are on the front lines.

This report gives an overview of the current challenges journalists face, both online and offline, and uses case studies to illustrate both advances and gaps in the protection strategies in place.

We define human rights defenders by their actions, not by their belonging to an NGO or other civil society body. And journalists, through their decision to share information, to document violations and to speak out about events have become critical to defending human rights.

Sadly, in the East and Horn of Africa, an absence of news indicates a society where ideas, opinions, and legitimate criticism cannot be freely expressed, especially when human rights violations abound. Journalists act as guardians of this fundamental right to free expression, and as such, are often faced with the most serious threats.

In recent years, controversial elections and highly charged political contests in Kenya and Uganda have created serious challenges to independent reporting and free expression, although these countries normally boast relatively open media landscapes. Journalists have increasingly been faced with the choice of reporting and risking attack and arrest, or remaining silent. Either way, society loses.

In Tanzania, journalists and civil society are extremely concerned by the use of new laws to shutter or ban critical outlets and target online communications. Four laws have been adopted to restrict media activity since 2015, and numerous media houses and journalists are currently embroiled in expensive and time-consuming legal battles.

Newspapers in Sudan are often harassed by the National Intelligence Security Services (NISS) who confiscate print runs or prosecute journalists on spurious charges. Constant intimidation and threats have left almost no independent journalists working freely in Rwanda, where few dare to criticise the government.

The government of Ethiopia lifted the ten-month State of Emergency in August 2017, but draconian restrictions on communications and free expression remain, while fear of prosecution has forced many journalists and critics to self-censor or to leave the country. The State of Emergency directives entrenched practices of self-censorship and a general climate a fear that exists among human rights defenders.

Eritrea and Djibouti remain two of the most repressive regimes in the sub-region, and with no independent media able to function effectively, exiled journalists struggle to fill the gaps left by state-owned outlets.

In Burundi and South Sudan, documenting grave and systematic human rights violations represents a real risk for journalists attempting to report from the ground, forcing many to do so from the relative safety of exile. Our report outlines some of the initiatives developed by journalists looking to continue reporting from the safety of exile. This is one avenue I highly recommend donors and others who wish to support the media industry start developing further.

Somalia has made some gains in media plurality, but authorities in south-central Somalia, Puntland and Somaliland routinely detain reporters, often without charge, while non-state actors like Al Shabaab continue to target journalists. The most recent terrorist attack is a stark reminder of the challenges my native country still faces.

The rise of digital communication tools as also brought a series of challenges. Internet shutdowns, social blackouts, online surveillance, hacking and threats are all tactics we have documented that are used to control, curtail and prevent exchange of information. In this context, it is more important than ever for us to ensure that freedom of expression and access to information are respected both online and offline.

After over 10 years of existence, DefendDefenders has offered support to countless journalists and media professionals across the East and Horn of Africa sub-region, from traditional print reporters and editors, to bloggers and citizen journalists.
By undertaking this research, we realised there needs to be greater synergies between media support organisations and civil society. Protection mechanisms for HRDs can be transferred to protection mechanisms for journalists. Governments should be informed of the important role journalists can play and should protect that space. This event, I hope, will be the beginning of a strong collaboration between these different actors.

I wish you all fruitful deliberations.
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