The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (DefendDefenders) seeks 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 focuses its work on Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia (together with Somaliland), South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
Many countries in this sub-region have experienced massive human rights abuses, long-term and large-scale impunity, single-party and military dictatorships, civil wars, and in the case of Somalia, a collapsed state; such situations and contexts render both the work and lives of human rights defenders particularly challenging. This project was established in 2005 following extensive field research in the region, which identified the most pressing and unmet needs of human rights defenders in order to seek to overcome some of the resulting challenges. The key areas identified as needing to be addressed were:
- Insufficient collaboration amongst human-rights organizations, especially among neighboring countries;
- Resource constraints (notably material) which greatly undermine the effectiveness of the work carried out by human rights defenders;
- Knowledge gaps, in particular regarding international human rights instruments and mechanisms as well as crisis management.
DefendDefenders serves as the Secretariat of The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (EHAHRD-Net) representing more than 70 members, i.e. Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and their organizations. The Network envisions a region in which the human rights of every citizen as stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) are respected and upheld. Its mission is to maximize the protection of HRDs working in the sub-region and to enhance the awareness of human rights work through linkages with national, regional and international like-minded entities. Its work aims to fulfill the following:
- To protect and defend HRDs in the region
- To build the capacity of HRDs in the region
- To advocate and raise public awareness and profiles of HRDs in the region
The structure of the Network is constituted by three entities:
- General Assembly
- Advisory Council
The General Assembly is constituted by all members of the Network with different voting powers according to their membership status. The Advisory Council comprises of focal persons from respective member countries. DefendDefenders serves as the Secretariat of the Network.
In addition, DefendDefenders currently also serves as the Secretariat of the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network.
DefendDefenders holds consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) as well as observer status with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
DefendDefenders is registered under Registration No. S.5914/5983 as a Non-Governmental Organisation under the Non-Governmental Organisations Registration Statute, 1989 of the Republic of Uganda.