Blog
End of Year Message 2011

Dear Friends,

Seasonal greetings from the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project. I hope 2011 has been a fruitful year for you as has been the case for EHAHRDP.

This year has in so many ways been a significant one for EHAHRDP.

One of the key events this year was EHAHRD-Net’s second General Assembly held on 29th and 30th March. The Assembly, which is held every five years, endorsed 11 new member organisations, and also approved a new five-year plan of action for the Network. The plan lays out strategies to enhance the capacity, advocacy work and protection of human rights defenders, as well as ways to improve the networking capacity of EHAHRD-Net and its members. Three solidarity resolutions were also unanimously adopted in relation to human rights defenders facing state-sanctioned recrimination and persecution in Uganda, Burundi, and Ethiopia, and in support of those defending the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

Another key event this year was EHAHRDP’s external evaluation. In March, EHAHRDP contracted a team of independent evaluators who reviewed the work of the project since its inception in 2005. The evaluation captured the impact and lessons learnt from EHAHRDP’s work through consulting widely with EHAHRDP stakeholders. The evaluation report provides an assessment of the outcomes and impact that EHAHRDP has both contributed to and, where possible, can reasonably claim attribution, as well as offering evidence-based recommendations. Efforts are now ongoing to ensure the implementation of the recommendations. The position of Deputy Director has been created and planning is underway to hold a strategic planning meeting in mid-2012 of the focal persons from countries of the sub-region which is held every two years. The strategic planning meeting will provide an opportunity to plan the Network activities in line with the evaluators’ recommendations and ensure focus on the issues requiring particular attention.

Building on last year’s goal of strengthening EHAHRD-Net, EHAHRDP has continued to focus on supporting the creation of national coalitions of human rights defenders as a key part of its goal of network consolidation. Kenya and Burundi’s national coalitions have continued to function and develop impressively. During the formation of the Tanzanian coalition in October, a representative of Burundi’s coalition was present to discuss experiences and best practices, a positive example of building inter-network linkages. Coalitions in Rwanda, Sudan, South Sudan, and Somalia all continue to grow in capacity and activity.

The capacity building program at EHAHRDP organised training in monitoring, documenting and reporting (MDR) for Human Rights Defenders working on LGBTI issues in Kenya in June. The training sought to increase the capacity of individuals and organizations for effective and comprehensive monitoring, documenting and reporting of human rights violations against the LGBTI community and its members.  A training on trial observation was also organised and held in Kampala from 25th-28th July for HRDs working in the sub region. The training was aimed at equipping the HRDs with the skills to monitor trials involving HRDs to ensure adherence by the judicial systems to international fair trial guarantees.

With the support of the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, the capacity building program also marked the 63rd anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by holding a five-day forum for Ugandan human rights defenders from 5 to 9th December. The forum, ‘Claiming Spaces: Tactical Tools for Human Rights Defenders’ opened with a day of high panel discussions leading into four days of training in which participants benefitted from one-day training modules in international and regional human rights mechanisms, digital security, social media for human rights, stress reduction for HRDs, resource mobilization, monitoring, documenting, and reporting of human rights violations, and security management training.

EHAHRDP’s protection program has continued to offer significant support to defenders at risk. Set up to respond to the emergency needs of human rights defenders, the program this year responded to requests from 102 human rights defenders, including those working in areas with civil conflict and repressive regimes, as well as journalists and sexual minorities. More specifically, the program registered a number of cases from the LGBTI community after the murder of David Kato the LGBTI activist in January and extended support to ensure their security in addition to counselling support.

One of the key areas of focus this year was the situation of human rights defenders in Burundi. EHAHRDP sought to support its network members’ campaign for justice for Ernest Manirumva, a human rights defender murdered in 2009, whose case continues to flagrantly elude justice. An EHAHRDP team carried out a trial observation mission to Burundi and attended a hearing on 15th June. In its mission report EHAHRDP called for greater transparency and urgency in the proceedings and for better protection for human rights defenders who have been threatened as a result of their involvement with the campaign.

Under its advocacy program, EHAHRDP continued to engage with UN mechanisms, raising awareness of the challenges facing human rights defenders in the sub-region and advocating for measures to improve their working environment. At the 16th session of the UN Human Rights Council in March, EHAHRDP’s advocacy focused on the situation of the LGBTI community in Uganda. The session took place just a month after the murder of the Ugandan activist David Kato on 26th January. A side event on Ending Violence and Criminal Sanctions Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity was co-organised and moderated by myself as well as Human Rights Watch’s Geneva Director, with Ugandan LGBTI activist Kasha Jacqueline as one of the panellists. At the 17th session in June EHAHRDP again focused its efforts on advocacy around the issue of reprisals, as well as on the report of the Independent Expert on Somalia, and briefed missions in advance of Uganda and Tanzania’s UPR in October.

This year also saw the human rights situation in five countries in the sub region – Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda – examined by the Universal Periodic Review, giving us the opportunity to once again engage at the UN. EHAHRDP continues to work with human rights defenders in these countries to follow up on recommendations made.

In late June, EHAHRDP had the opportunity to be part of the 6th Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies held in Vilnius, Lithuania, and had an active role in the Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society with the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton along with a small group of other global civil society actors. Representing EHARHDP, I called for the situation of human rights defenders to be reported on systematically in the State Department annual human rights reports, and also highlighted key concerns regarding human rights defenders in the East and Horn of Africa. We also took part in ‘Governing Migration’, an international conference organised by the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration (IASFM) which took place in Kampala, Uganda. In one of the two roundtable discussions on issues of forced migration that EHAHRDP took part in, we outlined some of the LGBTI issues leading to persons seeking to migrate to other countries such as laws that criminalize homosexuality, police harassment and public ridicule of LGBTI persons.

Since its launch in 2010, usage of the Floribert Chebeya Bahizire Resource Centre has continued to grow. Research materials as well as computers with internet facilities are availed to the human rights defenders who use the Centre. Trainings in digital security have also been offered to users by our IT Officer. After the January death of David Kato the Resource Centre offered space and facilities to the LGBTI community as a safe working environment for them as they held meetings to strategise their way forward. The Resource Centre continues to be a place where defenders can continue their work while in exile.

EHAHRDP this year continued its focus on preventive mechanisms including working on providing HRDs skills in security management to address emerging/potential threats they may encounter in their work.  In this regard, EHAHRDP’s Capacity Building program has continued to work together with Protection Desk Uganda/Kenya in carrying out security management training for human rights defenders. In 2011, in collaboration with the Protection Desks, EHAHRDP organised security management trainings for HRD’s from Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia and Somalia including Somaliland, and follow-up trainings in South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania.

EHAHRDP’s collaboration with the African Human Rights Education programme in Uganda, a project under Amnesty International and headed in Uganda by EHAHRDP in collaboration with Agency for Cooperation in Research and Development (ACORD) has ensured that EHAHRDP builds its rural contact base thanks to the AHRE focus on rural based organisations. The project focuses on building the capacity of rural civil society organisations in Uganda. Nine micro-projects which are monitored by the Coordinator are supported under this project and over 1000 community members have been reached through the human rights education interventions in the four regions of Uganda – mainly targeting women, children and other marginalised groups.  Success stories of the work of these micro projects have been wonderfully documented.

With the ultimate goal of making effective protection mechanisms accessible to all African human rights defenders, we continue to seek to implement the plan of action endorsed at the 2009 Johannesburg +10 All-Africa Human Rights Defenders Conference. The primary resolution, to create a Pan-Africa Human Rights Defenders-Network (PAHRD-Net) has been significantly bolstered in 2011 with the recruitment of PAHRD-Net Coordinator who brings with him significant prior experience as legal advisor at the Secretariat of the ACHPR and technical assistant to the Special Rapporteur on Human rights Defenders in Africa.

PAHRD-Net, with the end objective of supporting the substantial efforts of the five sub-regional networks in the protection of HRDs and especially to cast light on the needs of vulnerable defenders HRDs including women journalists, HRDs working in a repressive regime or in Conflict areas, LGBTI Defenders, Women Human Rights Defenders, has engaged with the PAHRD-Net Steering Committee prior to October’s Ordinary Session of the African Commission to develop a strategic plan of action. Engagement with the sub-regional networks have begun, in particular with a planning meeting held to discuss the early 2012 launch of the Northern Africa HRDs Network hosted by the Cairo Institute of Human Rights. Efforts in the coming year will focus on advocacy at the AU and UN level, sharing of best practices between sub-regional networks, creation of national coalitions of HRDs, and strategies and tactics to strengthen sub-regional of HRDs.

The year saw South Sudan become an independent nation on 9th July, thereby increasing the number of countries under the mandate of EHAHRDP from ten to eleven.  In August, EHAHRDP carried out a mission to South Sudan as a follow-up of the fact finding mission that took place shortly before January’s referendum. The mission found that human rights defenders faced significant challenges in carrying out their work, from issues of resources and capacity to a restricted political space in which to operate. A report is forthcoming and EHAHRDP hopes to focus work on South Sudan in 2012.

Despite these significant efforts, 2011 has unfortunately seen significant deteriorations in the situation facing defenders throughout the region. EHAHRDP is particularly concerned with the shrinking space in which human rights defenders are working, notably through increasing usage of legislation or administrative measures as a means of undermining the legitimate work of defenders.

In 2012, EHAHRDP will seek to continue in its efforts aimed at ensuring that risks faced by human rights defenders are mitigated through implementation of preventive measures and that they continue carrying out their work in their countries and only evacuated as a last resort. EHAHRDP will continue to enhance its interaction with the UN Human Rights Council and to ensure the involvement of its members in its engagement. In particular, it will work with its members in the countries that were reviewed at the UPR this year to follow up on the recommendations made to the government. At the same time it will seek to encourage greater interaction between actors involved at the international and regional levels. In particular we will seek to put in place the recommendations given to us in the report of the external evaluator.

Continual developments at EHAHRDP and in our region can be followed by visiting our website, by subscribing to our RSS feed, or by following our social media outlets on Facebook and Twitter. To better engage with stakeholders and the wider interested public we have embarked on a website refresh, expected to be launched by the end of the year. Keep your eyes on our web space at www.defenddefenders.org.

The year has also seen the EHAHRDP team expand in number. On this note, I would like to welcome and introduce to you Sari Naskinen the new Deputy Director, Neil Blazevic EHAHRDP’s Researcher, Rebecca Kisakye Accounts Assistant, Rosette Arinaitwe the new coordinator of the African Human Rights Education Project and Joseph Bikanda the Coordinator of the Pan Africa Human Rights Defenders Network, of which EHAHRDP is the secretariat.

Finally, I would like to thank those of you who have supported our efforts and worked hand in hand with us in the course of this year. As we close our offices for the festive session from the 16th December to the 4th January I would like on behalf of the EHAHRDP team to once again wish you all the best of the season and for the coming year, and we look forward to further cooperation with you.

Best wishes for the New Year,

Hassan Shire Sheikh