EHAHRDP celebrates ten years of defending human rights defenders

Today, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) celebrated its ten-year anniversary of defending human right activists throughout the East and Horn of Africa. To mark this occasion, EHAHRDP has produced an anniversary publication, as well as a series of documentaries about the organisation’s work.

Over a decade ago, after having had to flee my native Somalia due to my human rights work, I was lucky to find a safe haven in Toronto, Canada. Through discussions with my fellow African HRDs in exile, I realised that many others shared the pain and frustration of having to carry out human rights work in exile. With the support of Amnesty International and York University, I began developing a mechanism that would allow HRDs to continue their work while staying safe in the region.

Ten years later, I am proud to see that this idea has blossomed into the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Movement.

In my capacity as the director of EHAHRDP, and Chairperson of PAHRDN, I have witnessed first-hand the narrowing space for civil society, and the increasing risks being borne by human rights defenders across this country, and continent.

From both state and non-state actors, human rights defenders are routinely subject to physical attacks, digital surveillance, stigmatization, prosecution, arbitrary arrest, and worse. In the majority of countries that we work in, this pattern is worsening year on year.

Many governments in this part of Africa have introduced regressive new laws, limiting permissible activities for civil society organisations and human rights NGOs, and restricted the rights of their citizens to freedom of association, assembly and expression.

To address these challenges, our organisation has trained nearly 1,000 defenders in physical and digital security and worked to elevate the voices of HRDs through advocacy at national, regional and international level.

At today’s conference celebrating the 10-year anniversary of EHAHRDP, Margaret Sekaggya, the Executive Director of Human Rights Center-Uganda and former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of HRDs, stressed the need for systems to protect HRDs: “We need networks to protect ourselves. When you speak as one, you are stronger.” In response to this gap, our organisation has created coalitions to coordinate the protection of HRDs in 7 countries in the region.

Over the past decade, EHAHRDP played an integral role as a leader of the movement to defend and support human rights defenders in the East and Horn of Africa. As the principal organisation working to support human rights defenders in the region, EHAHRDP provided protection grants to 728 HRDs.

It is a special moment for the organisation as we reflect on the achievements reached over the past decade to protect and support human rights defenders.

The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project is a sub-regional organisation based in Kampala, which supports human rights defenders in Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. EHAHRDP works to protect and elevate the voices of HRDs throughout the East and Horn of Africa.