Subject: September in review

Dear friends and colleagues,
On 28 September, the UN Human Rights Council (the Council), concluded its 39th ordinary session with progressive developments, including the renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Burundi - allowing it to continue its investigative work. Additionally, DefendDefenders launched a report detailing Burundi's appalling behavior as a member of the Council. With its poor human rights record and disregard for human rights, Burundi should never have been a member of the Council.
This session saw the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, deliver her inaugural address, where among the countries highlighted, five are covered by our mandate. The vital work of human rights defenders (HRDs) therefore remains crucial, particularly in the increasingly harsh political climate of the East and Horn of Africa sub-region. Additionally, I had the opportunity to interface with Commissioner Bachelet during a meeting with civil society, where I raised issues pertinent to the smooth operation of the Council.
Away from the Council, we continued to witness Burundi’s appalling attempts to further close what is left of civic space in the country. The recent move by the government to suspend the operation of civil society organisations for vague reasons illustrates the strong need for unified actions to ensure the protection of HRDs. DefendDefenders remains committed to this struggle.
Yours in solidarity,
Hassan Shire
Executive Director
Defender of the month: Eulalie Nibizi
Eulalie Nibizi is a Burundian human rights defender living in exile in Uganda, and since 2017 she has been the Coordinator of the Coalition Burundaise des Défenseurs des Droits de l’Homme (CBDDH). The CBDDH was founded in 2009 to promote civic and democratic space in Burundi, and foster cooperation among HRDs. Given the increasingly precarious working environment for HRDs in Burundi, the CBBDH is currently based in Kampala, operating in collaboration with DefendDefenders.

Recommended reading
Between Despair and Resilience: Burundian human rights defenders in protracted exile in Uganda and Rwanda

DefendDefenders and the Coalition Burundaise des Défenseurs des Droits de l’Homme examine challenges faced by exiled Burundian HRDs.

Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Burundi - A/HRC/39/63

The CoI highlights the effective control of Burundian authorities over the Imbonerakure, brings attention to the economic impact of the crisis, and supplements the list of alleged perpetrators of crimes against humanity.

Updates from the sub-region

  • On 28 September, the Burundi government announced a three-month ban for some local and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs). No further details were released except that the organisations were provisionally suspended as of 1 October for allegedly violating the January 2017 NGO Law. They will be allowed to reopen, according to the government, if they comply with the country’s regulations. The rules include strict control of their finances, the payment of administrative fees, and the implementation of ethnic quotas.
  • On 15 September, President Paul Kagame suddenly extended a presidential pardon to 2,140 political prisoners including opposition leader Victoire Ingabire.
South Sudan
  • On 12 September, South Sudan's warring leaders, President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, signed a new peace agreement, formally ending a five-year war that has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions. The revitalised agreement lays the foundation for rebuilding Africa’s youngest nation.
  • On 6 September, a South Sudanese military court sentenced ten soldiers to prison for raping foreign aid workers and murdering a local journalist in the July 2016 attack on the Terrain Hotel. The court also ordered the government to compensate the victims.
  • In late September, the East African Court of Justice delivered a progressive decision in favour of Loliondo’s indigenous people. The Tanzania Pastoralist Community Forum challenged the Tanzanian government for displacing the indigenous people in Loliondo in order to promote tourism and luxury safaris.
  • On 12 September, Twerwaneho Listener’s Club (TLC), an NGO operating in the crater lakes region of Western Uganda was burgled for the third time in less than a month. Another NGO, Unwanted Witness Uganda also had their offices ransacked on 14 September.
  • Since 2013, over 30 organisations have had their offices broken into, yet investigations remain inconclusive. 
  • Supported nine HRDs and referred eight other cases to partners;
  • Conducted capacity building workshops for HRDs;
  • Submitted updates to the CIVICUS Civic Space Monitor on Burundi, Djibouti, Rwanda, and Somalia;
  • Submitted open letters on Sudan and the UN Human Rights Council’s election process;
  • Conducted a research mission to Nairobi, Kenya;
  • Attended a meeting to strategise on implementation of the decisions of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
From our network
  • Hub Afrique engaged the International Center for Diplomacy (ICD) based in Morocco as the fourth sub Regional Connector for North Africa. It further finalised partnership agreements with West Africa’s WACSI and Central Africa’s REPONGAC. The sub Regional Connectors liaise with civil society organisations in the respective region;
  • Following the launch of the We-Account Social Innovation Challenge (SIC) 2018, 20 proposals were selected to submit their work plans. The SIC 2018 initiative seeks to support the five best innovative ideas across the continent’s sub-regions to effectively meet a defined challenge around transparency, accountability and natural resource management;
  • Civil Rights Defenders welcomes nominations for the Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award. The nomination process will close on 23 November 2018.
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