Photo Credit – Defend Defenders

A human rights defender (HRD) is a person who, individually or with others, acts to promote or protect human rights through peaceful means. Anyone can be a HRD irrespective of their age, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, religion or profession. Defending human rights can be their professional source of income or a voluntary engagement.

Who is a WHRD?

A woman human rights defender (WHRD) can be a female HRD defending the rights of all or any other HRDs who work in the defense of women’s rights or on gender issues.

Anyone who works to promote or protect human rights through peaceful means is an HRD, whether they are paid to do this or not. There are endless ways to promote or protect human rights, here are a few examples;

  • Document human rights abuses by collecting evidence
  • Raise awareness about human rights abuses (in media, online, or in their community)
  • Report human rights abuses to international or regional bodies
  • Support survivors of human rights abuses (e.g., shelter, legal advice, emotional support)
  • Educate people about their rights and teach methods to defend human rights

When individuals document and raise awareness of human rights abuses, they automatically become HRDs. Witnesses who provide information on human rights abuses in court cases or to human rights bodies are HRDs

Human Rights Defenders face many threats. Often, those who abuse human rights are in a position of power (whether in politics or in a corporation), so they target HRDs, including WHRDs, who threaten their power.

Generally, women face gendered threats that men do not face to the same extent. When a woman defends human rights, she is vulnerable to all threats that HRDs face generally, as well as specific gendered threats. The same is also true for sexual minority rights defenders. They may face:

  • Sexual abuse and gender-based violence
  • Threats to the HRD’s family, including children
  • Smear campaigns (online and offline)
  • Stigmatization
Ivan Pinno- Co-founder and Chief Operations Officer at the Defend Defenders seminar held at Garuga Country Lake Resort.

Among the topics covered were Civic Space in promoting human rights in Uganda and how technology can be mediated and solutions circumvented in the promotion of these rights especially the women human rights defenders in Uganda.

Civic Space seems to be a wider topic; however, Article 38 of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda provides for the core elements of civic space rights. The article warrants participation in civic space rights and activities by providing that every Uganda citizen shall have a right to exercise the right to participate in the affairs of government, individually or through his or her representatives in accordance with the law.

The Article further establishes the right of every Ugandan to participate in peaceful activities to influence the policies of government through civic organizations. Among the categories that form part of the Civic Space are;

  1. The right of access to information
  2. Freedom of expression, media, and digital freedoms
  3. Freedom of peaceful assembly and to petition
  4. Freedom of association
  5. Non- discrimination and inclusion; and
  6. The rule of law

Civic-Space Technology Platforms

Civic Society connects citizens with a variety of actors, facilitating civic engagement and participation. It is generally described as the “third space’ where citizens with different interests can address issues on a common platform.

The technologies encompass initiatives that contribute to the development of citizens’ power to act, facilitate citizen participation and provide the necessary tools to improve the transparency of governance. If properly leveraged and deployed, civic technology can help strengthen democratic processes and promote inclusive decision-making. Further to this, it can aid the emergence of strong political leadership based on respect for the principles of democracy and human rights.

Civic tools and services can only be built if there is the assurance of an adequate level of citizen protection from abuse, no limitations to freedom of speech, and some access to online resources and networks. All these conditions are of course predicated on the citizens’ ability to optimize their digital skills to invoke their rights- this is easier said than done. Civil Society continues to operate in difficult and oftentimes repressive political spaces.

The promise of civic-tech is undermined by increasingly repressive measures and policies to curb civil society activism by silencing certain actors’ voices. This phenomenon, described as the shrinking of civic space, reduces the ability of civil society organizations to play their fundamental role as guardians of democracy and promotes alternatives. This constraint on civic space is carried to the digital space through measures such as internet shutdowns and the existence of structural barriers including the lack of access to the internet and smartphones in rural areas.

Ongoing training on civic technology as facilitated by Defend Defenders at Garuga Resort Beach

While civil society can use civic tech to engage with institutions such as national parliaments, this can’t be achieved because the majority of the population in many African countries lacks access to the internet or infrastructure and hence cannot engage in politics digitally.

Albeit civic technology in Africa is limited because of the low access to the internet, it remains the best tool for democratic change. It has increased the power of citizens over political life and made governments more accessible, efficient, effective, and accountable. Better yet, it has fostered inclusive and participatory governance of communities through the strong involvement of non-state actors such as civil society organizations. However, the restriction of civic space in Africa is a blocking factor in the meteoric rise of civic technology in Africa.

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