Human rights defenders in focus

A human rights defender is a person who promotes and protects human rights without resorting to violence. All over the world, human rights defenders are threatened, harassed and murdered. We highlight brave people who, in various ways, have come to join the struggle for other people’s rights. Take part in their stories and help us spread the word about them. The more visible they become, the harder it gets for regimes to silence them and their colleagues.

Human Rights Defenders in focus – Brian Nkoyooyo

Fit in, instead of standing out, is a general security advice for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people in Uganda. “It is a matter of survival”, says Brian Nkoyooyo, Director of the grass root organisation Icebreakers that works with LGBT youth. Since he is a well-known gay activist in a country that is considered to be one of the worst countries for LGBT people, he is always on guard: “I live every day as it was my last”.

Sapiyat Magomedova

Sapiyat Magomedova

The North Caucasian republic of Dagestan is one of the most dangerous places for lawyers in Russia today. In this region, Sapiyat Magomedova defends victims of grave human rights violations; like enforced disappearances, extra judicial killings and torture. She has taken on cases that many lawyers would reject due to security reasons, and althought it is considered almost impossible, she has won several of them.

Blerta Cani Drenofci

Blerta Cani Drenofci Photo: Julia Björne/Global Reporting

Until 1993 persons with disabilities were invisible, kept in institutions, and no one talked about their rights. Today the issue is less controversial but Blerta Cani Drenofci, Executive Director of Albanian Disability Rights Foundation, says she her choice of career has often been questioned: “In the beginning I met a lot of ignorance. My friends were surprised that I wanted to work with this issue.”

Ee Sarom

Ee Sarom Photo Tina Axelsson

About 60.000 people were forcibly evicted in Cambodia in 2011 alone, local human rights group ADHOC reports. Those who refuse to abandon their house or dare to demonstrate face risk of arrest or violence, and human rights defenders working on housing rights are persecuted. In a country where many non-governmental organisations are afraid to support human rights issues, Ee Sarom, and his organisation, stands tall. ”Sometimes I am scared but I have to do my job”, says Ee Sarom.

Zdravko Cimbaljevic

Zdravko Cimbaljevic Foto: Ninke Liebert

Two years ago, an unfamiliar man attacked Zdravko Cimbaljevic. The hate crime led Zdravko to openly speak about his homosexuality in the press, thereby becoming Montenegro’s first open homosexual. Since then, he is subject to constant threats. It is a difficult task to change the attitude towards LGBT people in a country where about 70 per cent of the population believes that homosexuality is a disease: “I don’t ask everybody to love us, just not to attack me or violate my rights.”

Mesfin Negash

Ninke Liebert Photography

Being one of Ethiopia’s very few independent journalists, Mesfin Negash was harrassed by the government to the limit that he had to go into exile. Today he lives in Sweden but continues to spread news about human rights and politics in Ethiopia, trying to make the international community alert on the situation in the country: “If you took a balance sheet you would see that we are equal to Burma”, says Mesfin Negash.

Svetlana Isayeva

Svetlana Isaeva Photo: Tina Axelsson

Five years have passed since Svetlana Isayeva’s, at that time, 25-year old son ”disappeared”. In Dagestan, where the war against terrorism affects an increasing number of civilians, Svetlana, together with at group of others who have also lost someone dear, founded Mothers of Dagestan for human rights; an organisation that is on the victim’s side in the armed conflict between the Russian government forces and the separatists.