Protectors of human rights defenders launch regional hub for Africa

By Desmond Davies, GNA London Bureau Chief 

Nairobi, Dec. 10, GNA – Protection
International (PI), a Brussels-based organisation that supports human rights
defenders, has launched its regional hub for Africa, based in Nairobi.

It is the first of four such hubs within
PI’s Global strategy, 2019-2023. 

The decision to create regional hubs is to
bring decision-making closer to human rights defenders, while ensuring more
timely interventions where threats exist.

Its new global strategy is a shift from
focusing on protecting individual rights to protecting collective rights.

PI’s Africa Regional Office was launched at
the residence of the Belgian ambassador to Kenya.

The Regional Director, Kenyan Susan Muriungi
(pictured), said at the ceremony that “our desire” was for African governments
to be held to account for their record on “prosecuting perpetrators of
violations on human rights defenders, on eliminating the criminalisation of
human rights defenders and on their support of policies that ensure the
wellbeing and safety of human rights defenders”.

“We are counting on the support of
diplomatic missions and national human rights institutions to work with and
influence African governments to respect the right to defend human rights and
create an environment that enables human rights defenders to continue doing
their work.”

Liliana De Marco Coenen, Executive Director
of PI Global, giving the reason for establishing regional offices around the
world, said: “This is our response to the worrying trends we have observed in
recent years: a closing civic space, the rise of powerful revisionist agendas
of international human rights standards and the erosion of democratic values
across the world.”

She said PI, a non-profit organisation that
was started in 1998 to work with grassroots human rights defenders, began with
a simple idea: “People have the right to defend rights free from fear and
attacks, and we can improve the protection of human rights defenders at risk.

“Since the late 90s, we have been working
together with defenders in over 60 countries around the globe to strengthen
their capacities to manage their protection more effectively.” 

The Deputy Belgian Ambassador to Kenya, Yvan
Feys, who hosted the event in the absence of the ambassador who had travelled
to Eritrea on urgent business, said: “Belgium plays a pioneering role with
respect to human rights.

“For example, in 1996, Belgium was the first
country in Western Europe, which banned the death penalty from criminal law,
whether in peacetime or in wartime.

“Considering the obvious need for more
attention towards the specific challenges on the African continent, we can only
applaud a permanent African hub of Protection International here in Nairobi.”

Preparations for the launch of the Regional
Office took a year, during which PI Africa established a permanent presence in
Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania with seven sub-offices on
the continent.

PI’s regional hubs will have their own
locally-based management and governance structures.

They can independently establish links with
existing initiatives and promote new ones, working with flexibility across
countries in the various regions.

In Kenya, PI Africa is already partnering
with the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, the Human Rights Defenders
Network and the Coalition of Human Rights Defenders, among several other
similar groups.

“We will continue to reach out to all
organisations, groups and individuals for partnerships aimed at truly enabling
an environment for human right defenders to thrive,” said Ms Muriungi.

At the launch, there was an exhibition,
“Unsung Heroes”, featuring portraits of Africa’s human rights
defenders by the Swedish photographer, Anette Brolenius.

One was Germain Rukuki, from Burundi, who
has received a lengthy jail term last year for his human rights activities.

“Germain Rukuki’s case is emblematic and
hard-hitting,” said Gitahi Githuku, Chairman of PI Africa’s Board.

“Arrested in Bujumbura and sentenced by
Burundi’s High Court to 32 years in prison for acts we believe he did not
commit, Germain was fighting for the defence of human rights and assisting the
most vulnerable people.

“The work he was doing at the time of arrest
is not a criminal.

“His trial is completely political,” Mr
Githuku added.

GNA

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