This Human Rights Day, We’re Celebrating Defenders Worldwide
December 10, 2018
By Carolyn Ziv, Fund Staff
Helena Maleno advocates for greater protections for migrants in Morocco, in border areas, and on the Mediterranean Sea—where thousands die every year attempting the journey to Europe. A member of rights group Caminando Fronteras, she runs a hotline where people can report migrant ships in distress and has helped rescue hundreds from drowning. She is regularly harassed and threatened for her work, and is currently facing trumped-up charges of human trafficking. Photo by Robert Mentov for the Fund for Global Human Rights
Murhabazi Namegabe works to defend the rights of children in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where ongoing conflict has claimed over five million lives since 1997. The founder of the Bureau pour le Volontariat au Service de l’Enfance et de la Santé (BVES), Murhabazi helps negotiate the release of child soldiers by armed groups and reintegrates these children into their communities. It’s dangerous work—but for Murhabazi, worth the risks. Photo by Kaylyn Kvochak for the Fund for Global Human Rights
As they promote justice, dignity, and equality for all, local human rights activists encounter many obstacles—from restrictive laws designed to cripple their organizations, to cyberattacks on their information, to physical violence. With characteristic resilience and creativity, activists like Suba Churchill of Kenya (center) and Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai (left) and Hannah Yambasu (right) of Sierra Leone are sharing knowledge and strategies across borders for resisting this crackdown and continuing their work. Photo by Ash Appleton/Majority World for the Fund for Global Human Rights
Growing up in India, Sana Shree experienced beatings, harassment, and even electroconvulsive therapy due to her gender identity. Rejected by her family, Sana left home as a teenager and took up sex work. Unhappy with her life, she decided to break through the societal barriers holding her back, becoming the first trans person to graduate from a local college. Today, she is a leading trans-rights activist and founded the trans-rights organization Swatantra. Photo by Abhijeet Ghosh/Majority World for the Fund for Global Human Rights
In many countries, discrimination, harassment, and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are daily occurrences. In India, the activists of Ondede-Swatantra—a local organization that defends women’s, children’s, and LGBT rights—are working to change that. Their efforts and those of their allies in the sexual minority rights movement recently paid off when, in September 2018, the Indian Supreme Court overturned a law criminalizing same-sex sexual relations. Photo by Abhijeet Ghosh/Majority World for the Fund for Global Human Rights
Like many countries, the fight for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people is ongoing in The Philippines—and TLF-Share Collective is on the frontlines of the struggle. The activists and their peers in the movement are part of an ongoing campaign to promote the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill, which would bring greater legal protection to LGBTI people nationwide. Photo by Robert Mentov for the Fund for Global Human Rights
As a trans woman in Uganda, Leticia has experienced harassment, threats, and even physical violence. Sadly, she is not alone: every day, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) Ugandans face the same abuses—or live in fear of them. Leticia and her friends started Queer Youth Uganda (QYU) to help LGBTI people navigate these threats. By living as an openly trans woman, Leticia hopes to inspire others to embrace who they are. Photo by Robert Mentov for the Fund for Global Human Rights
In India’s Gujarat State, women are accessing justice in a space designed by them, for them—the Nari Adalats, or ‘women’s courts.’ Trained by the activists at Vikalp Women’s Group, the court’s all-female judges try cases brought by women from their community. These cases often involve domestic violence, sexual assault, child custody, and inheritance rights—issues many rural women are uncomfortable taking to the male-dominated mainstream courts. Photo by Panvi Shah/Majority World for the Fund for Global Human Rights
In Mexico’s Oaxaca state, conflicts over natural resources abound. These disputes often pit rural communities against powerful companies seeking to exploit their land and waterways for commercial gain, or government projects intended to fuel development. Supported by a coalition of human rights groups known as Colectivo Oaxaqueño, these elders in Capulalpam have educated youth about the importance of the land and need to protect it. Photo by Nikhol Esteras for the Fund for Global Human Rights
Rwamutonga, Uganda, is the scene of a long-running dispute that began when two local businessmen tried to sell the community’s land to a mostly foreign-owned company, prompting Ugandan security forces to violently evict the residents from their homes. With the help of the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), an environmental justice organization and Fund grantee, the community took their case to court and returned to their homes. One of the businessmen is still fighting for the land, but the villagers are standing strong. Photo by Robert Mentov for the Fund for Global Human Rights
An environmentalist passionate about human rights, Frank Muramuzi has led Uganda’s National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) for 20 years. During that time, NAPE has challenged the construction of hydroelectric dams that would deprive local people of their rights to food and water, advanced policy reforms for renewable energy sources, and helped communities contest attempts to grab their land. Frank has been threatened and even imprisoned for his outspokenness, yet he refuses to give up. Photo by Robert Mentov for the Fund for Global Human Rights
With its fertile land, oil reserves, and coastline along Lake Albert, western Uganda is brimming with natural resources. This wealth has attracted investors hungry to profit from it and government officials interested in launching megadevelopment projects. As these powerful actors move to exploit local resources, the journalists of Community Green Radio work to ensure local communities can protect the land and waterways they depend on to survive. Photo by Robert Mentov for the Fund for Global Human Rights
One morning, a group of women in Tunisia arrived at the factory where they worked—only to find it had closed without warning or their last three months’ pay. Instead of accepting the injustice, the women fought back. With the help of the Forum Tunisien pour les Droits Economiques et Sociaux (FTDES), they are occupying the factory and taking their case to court. Photo by Robert Mentov for the Fund for Global Human Rights
Besma Marzouk has zero tolerance for injustice. So when the factory she had worked in for 20 years closed without warning and without paying her several months’ salary, she joined her co-workers in occupying the facility in protest. With support from the Forum Tunisien pour les Droits Economiques et Sociaux (FTDES), the women have also taken legal action to demand their backpay and respect for their labor rights. Photo by Robert Mentov for the Fund for Global Human Rights
Jasuben is a street vendor who sells handcrafted door hangings, or “toran,” in a market in Ahmedabad, India. The leader of the market’s street vendors, Jasuben represents their interests to authorities, who periodically try to displace them from their stalls, threatening their livelihoods. Seeking to become a stronger advocate for street vendors, Jasuben often attends meetings by the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), a member organization that promotes the rights of poor women nationwide. Photo by Panvi Shah/Majority World for the Fund for Global Human Rights
In 2012, members of communities in San Pedro Ayampuc, Guatemala, established a peaceful resistance camp called La Puya to protest the encroachment of mining companies onto their land without their knowledge or consent. Six years later, and with the help of Guatemalan human rights groups, they have won some legal battles to protect their land, but have also endured death threats, harassment, and imprisonment. Photo by James Rodríguez for the Fund for Global Human Rights
Nearly eight years since the Arab Spring swept Tunisia, many people continue to struggle with the issues that fueled the uprising—including unemployment and labor rights abuses. Fortunately, groups like the Forum Tunisien pour les Droits Economiques et Sociaux (FTDES) have emerged to help aggrieved workers demand their rights—including through improved negotiations with employers and peaceful demonstrations like the one depicted here. Photo by Robert Mentov for the Fund for Global Human Rights
The activists of Defence for Children International Sierra Leone (DCI-SL) work to ensure every child is protected from physical, emotional, sexual, and economic exploitation and abuse, has access to an education, and is treated fairly by the justice system. Instead of just advocating for young people, DCI-SL teaches children to become activists themselves by training them on their rights and how to report abuses against them. Photo by Israel Williams/Majority World for the Fund for Global Human Rights
As the director of a women’s shelter run by Amal Association for Family and Children, Rebah Ben Chaaben helps single mothers navigate the legal, economic, and societal challenges of raising a child alone in Tunisia—where unwed mothers are often stigmatized. By ensuring single mother’s basic needs are met and educating them on their rights and those of their children, Rebah and her team help build their confidence to lead independent lives. Photo by Robert Mentov for the Fund for Global Human Rights
In our infinitely diverse world, there are some things we all share: We all want to have our basic needs met, to have equal opportunities to succeed, and to lead lives free of violence and repression.
On December 10, 1948, representatives of 48 countries gathered in Paris, France, to enshrine these fundamental human rights in a landmark proclamation that guides international laws and policies up until today: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
Unfortunately, 70 years since the UDHR’s adoption, not everyone enjoys the protections and privileges described within it—and in many places, powerful actors are working to undermine these rights.
But there are also people pushing back.
Across the globe, activists are speaking out against injustice, rallying communities to raise their voices with them, and building peaceful movements for change. These frontline defenders often face threats and attacks as a result of their work. Yet they remain steadfast in their mission.
This photo essay honors human rights defenders worldwide as they seek to ensure that all people, no matter who they are or where they are from, can exercise their fundamental human rights. Released on the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the UDHR, it features the stories of grassroots activists supported by the Fund for Global Human Rights—ordinary people pushing to make the tenets of the declaration a reality for all.