Africa Human Rights Network
African Great Lakes Region
Africa Human Rights Network (AHRN) is a Dutch human rights organization that aims to safeguard and support local human rights defenders (HRDs) from the Great Lakes region, as well as members of the African diaspora in The Netherlands. By providing a platform to more than 75 civil society NGOs operating in the Great Lakes region, AHRN also aims to equip defenders with necessary tools to withstand pressures, such as security trainings, capacity-building activities, and temporary relocation for those who are imperiled because of their work. AHRN brings members of the human rights community together by hosting events in a secure social setting, allowing HRDs to connect, share, and reflect on their experiences and generate newfound strategies to end human rights violations in Africa.
The Great Lakes region, spanning the area between northern Lake Tanganyika, western Lake Victoria, and lakes Kivu, Edward and Albert, is generally considered to comprise the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, South Sudan, and Rwanda. An estimated 107 million people live in the region, and although political and social conditions vary greatly by country, numerous interconnected conflicts pose threats to human rights and free expression in the region, including post-colonial challenges pertaining to inequitable access to land and resources, ethnic divisions, government repression and corruption, and civil war, most notably the ongoing conflict in the DRC. In the wake of such strife, many censorship laws and regulations have sprung up across the region, affecting countless human rights defenders and artists who are critical of the status quo. However, with the aid of AHRN, HRDs have a higher chance of gaining the necessary resources to defend human rights and realize more effective peacebuilding projects, while also protecting themselves against political, social, and economic threats.
Africa Human Rights Network offers a variety of capacity-building activities, networking opportunities, and temporary relocation to HRDs and artists in life-threatening situations. AHRN’s human rights trainings aim to help HRDs better understand human rights frameworks and create and implement strategic plans in order to launch effective projects in the fight against human rights violations. By utilizing this service, HRDs have the opportunity to gain confidence and network with other HRDs and organizations in surrounding areas.
HRDs who are vocally critical of their regimes or those in power are also often at risk of cyberattacks. Thus, AHRN also offers digital security training sessions that are designed to help HRDs utilize safe digital practices to effectively communicate, collect, and store sensitive data regarding their human rights efforts. In addition to digital security training, AHRN offers English training. Because many of AHRN’s members speak French, acquiring a second language can help them communicate their ideas on an international level.
The multifaceted conflicts facing the Great Lakes region have forced many residents to migrate through the region or emigrate entirely away from their homeland. According to the Office of the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes, “Currently over four million refugees and asylum seekers originate from the Great Lakes region.” This statistic is also crucial to AHRN’s work, as one of their central goals is to support the African diaspora community, both within the region and in The Netherlands.
In an effort to support
those who are forcibly displaced, AHRN aids human rights defenders who are
under threat by offering temporary relocation and safe haven. AHRN is a part of
the International Shelter City Network, a global temporary relocation initiative coordinated by Justice and Peace
Netherlands and made up of network cities that offer shelter for
human rights defenders at risk. Many HRDs under threat in the Great Lakes region because of their activism are forced to halt their work or live in exile
to remain safe. In an effort to curb such outcomes, AHRN
partnered with Shelter City to offer temporary relocation, safe
haven, and emotional and psychological support to HRDs, allowing HRDs to
continue their peace-building efforts without fear of retribution or immediate
danger. In 2017, AHRN launched Shelter City Dar es Salaam, a three month
relocation program for HRDs in Tanzania that offers HRDs social, medical,
psychological, and network-building support. In mid-2019, AHRN and Shelter City
also launched a new pilot project, Shelter City Cotonou, for relocation in
Benin. This project aims to support more human rights defenders from West
Africa with French-speaking capacities.
Alongside human rights defenders, artists who seek to express cultural identity and creatively dissent also face numerous threats in the Great Lakes region. As a result, in December 2018, AHRN partnered with Nafasi Art Space to launch a 3-month Artist Exchange Program in Tanzania. This program gives artists whose work has a human rights focus the opportunity to freely create art that brings awareness to human rights violations in the Great Lakes region without fear of reprisal. ARC actively refers cases of artists at risk in the region to AHRN’s relocation and support programs. We are grateful for their presence in our network as an integral defender of human rights and artists at risk in Africa, and look forward to our ongoing collaboration.
By Kernika George, May 2020. Kernika is a student at Baruch College Zicklin School of Business, pursuing her B.A. in Marketing Management and a minor in Psychology. With her knowledge in the field of marketing, she hopes to educate and inspire underrepresented groups across the globe.