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Six Grassroots Activists and Organizations Leading the Way in 2020

Karen Women’s Organization (KWO)

As Myanmar’s powerful military faces genocide charges in the Hague, many communities throughout the country continue to struggle to protect their rights after decades of military rule. The Karen Women’s Organization, or KWO, was founded in 1949; today, its membership includes more than 70,000 women from across Karen State.

On the agenda in 2020, the activists of KWO are working to build alliances across local civil society, strengthen protections for Karen refugees and internally displaced people, and improve education for ethnic minorities in Myanmar.

Frank Muramuzi – National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE)

While inspiring activists like Greta Thunberg open the world’s eyes to the dangers of climate change and resource abuse, frontline defenders like Frank Muramuzi, executive director of NAPE, are building local capacity to save the earth.

Through education, advocacy, and even community radio, Frank is fighting for the rights of communities affected by development projects and extractive industries in Uganda. Recently named best environmental protection organization at the Uganda Responsible Investment Awards, NAPE is leading the charge to ensure a sustainable future for Uganda—in 2020 and beyond.

Berta Zuñiga – Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH)

Berta Zuñiga is the daughter of Berta Caceres, the tireless defender of environmental and indigenous rights and co-founder of COPINH who was murdered in 2016 for her outspoken activism. In late 2019, seven men were handed long prison sentences for Berta Caceres’s shocking death after a protracted legal battle.

But Berta Zuñiga, who has taken over as general coordinator of COPINH, says that the verdict falls short of justice, demanding that Honduras prosecute the Desa dam company executives who ordered her mother’s murder and revoke Desa’s contract—keep an eye out this coming year as Berta continues her campaign.

Kilifi Civil Society Organizations Network

In the face of ongoing harassment, Kenyan activists are forming protective networks—an innovative approach to solidarity and mutual security that could be a model for other embattled defenders in 2020.

Across Kilifi and other coastal counties, police and local authorities are exploiting insecurity to impede activism, using restrictive laws to target activists and communities for standing up to rampant land and resource abuse at the hands of corrupt politicians and corporate interests.

In response, Kenyan human rights groups—including Fund grantees Defenders Coalition, Civil Society Reference Group, and Muslims for Human Rights—are pioneering new efforts with activists in Kilifi and other counties to preserve their civic space and protect each other from violence and persecution.

Helena Maleno – Caminando Fronteras

Helena Maleno has saved lives on either side of the Mediterranean Sea. As the head of Caminando Fronteras, she provides critical assistance to people making the journey from North Africa to Europe and investigates human rights abuses against migrants.

Her fearless activism has drawn the ire of authorities on both continents—she recently beat bogus criminal charges in Morocco—but as xenophobic politicians continue to malign migrants and spread hate, Helena’s life-saving work will be more important than ever in 2020.

Vikalp Women’s Group

It’s been less than two years since India’s Supreme Court struck down a colonial-era law banning same-sex relations after a decades-long legal struggle. But for the activists of Vikalp—a women’s rights group that helped form one of the largest organizations for lesbian and bisexual women in India—that victory was only the first step toward a more just society.

Now, they’re focused on getting the state government of Gujarat, home to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to recognize a 2014 judgment that guarantees the right to equality and self-determination for transgender people.