Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Fighting Impunity: High Stakes in the East and Horn of Africa

On June 26th, NED (National Endowment for Democracy) hosted “Fighting Impunity: High Stakes in the East and Horn of Africa” featuring Hassan Shire Sheikh of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (EHAHRDN) and Bronwyn Bruton of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Center for International Private Enterprise. Bronwyn introduced Hassan with the story of his organization’s response to the situation of journalist fleeing Somalia last October. Hassan’s EHAHRDN responded immediately by providing basic assistance, relocation, and trauma counseling for over 20 journalists. Bronwyn believes EHAHRDP is truly an example of a new practice needed in the field. Traditional institutional responses have been proven insufficient, and EHAHRDP is a model for new mechanisms that need to evolve.

Hassan began his lecture with the idea that “every challenge has a response.” He explained that people in civil society really want to “pick up the pieces on the ground” to effect change at the grassroots level but they are in need of support and encouragement. Activists and Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) in the east and horn of Africa are well aware of the risk they are facing; however, they also understand that their reporting is absolutely vital to bring about change. These groups and individuals face numerous challenges including insufficient collaboration, insufficient skills, and immense resource constraints. EHAHRDP is working to establish a mechanism to fulfill three main objectives: protect HRDs, engage in advocacy on behalf of HRDs, and build capacity for skilled active citizenship among HRDs and those in their communities.

Hassan individually described the terrible conditions for Human Rights Defenders in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Sudan. These four countries are constantly plagued with human rights violations including targeted rapes, denial of assistance to IDPs and refugees, targeted violence towards humanitarian workers and civilians, as well as unlawful arrests, detainments, and executions. Hassan believes that in regards to international assistance it is “not a lack of information but a lack of action.”

In order to provide adequate protection for HRDs in the East and Horn of Africa and to eradicate human rights violations, Hassan provided several constructive recommendations for the international community. Not only should it, continue its condemnation of HR violations, but it should call on all parties to bring an end to arbitrary arrests, harassments, systematic attacks, and targeted killings. Accountability mechanisms for governments and other actors should be set in place and investigations of HR violations should be encompassing and prompt.

Assistance should target marginalized groups such as women and defenders of minorities groups because they are the most vulnerable. Unfortunately, the increase in violations against HRDs will increase self-censorship and inhibit the dissemination of information regarding the atrocities in this region. This will have an exceedingly negative impact on the ability of these nations to progress and establish peace, justice, and stability.

Hassan called upon the international community and NGOs to provide logistical, political, and financial support to entities and bodies serving the HRDs network in Africa to end the unlawful censorship so as to promote the freedom of expression. In his published recommendations, Hassan emphasizes the need “to ensure that the respect of human rights and ending impunity is at the heart of all diplomatic and peace and reconciliation dialogues.”

Sponsor: The National Endowment for Democracy
Date: June 26, 2008
Time: 12-2 p.m.
Representative Attending: Jessica Walker

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