Across the continent, the most common risks faced by HRDs throughout 2014 were arbitrary detention and court proceedings, as state agencies unjustifiably equated human rights work with subversion. There were instances where peaceful and legitimate initiatives were qualified as acts of terrorism, as in Ethiopia where human rights bloggers faced terrorism charges. Death threats, which at times were followed by physical attacks, continued. In most cases, threats and attacks were carried out by state actors, particularly security services, though non-state actors were also involved in a number of countries. Crises of governance and, in some countries, the escalation of armed conflicts were factors exacerbating the vulnerability of most African HRDs.

Criminalisation was used to target some of the most prominent voices in African civil society. Such was the case in Burundi with the arrest in May of Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, whose work has been recognised by his receipt of several human rights awards. His arrest was triggered by a radio debate during which Mbonimpa confirmed having evidence of the existence of training camps for young Burundians in eastern DRC. He was charged with ‘threatening the security of the state’ and was only granted provisional release on grounds of ill-health after four months of pre-trial detention. In Swaziland, human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and Bhekithemba Makhubu, editor-in-chief of the country’s sole independent newspaper, were sentenced in July to two years imprisonment for contempt of court in connection with articles raising concerns about the independence of the judiciary. In November, Mauritanian anti-slavery campaigner Biram Dah Abeid, winner of the 2013 Front Line Defenders Award and the UN Human Rights Prize, was arrested with several of his colleagues and charged with illegal gathering, encouraging rebellion and refusal to comply with police orders.

Front Line Defenders documented cases of illegal detention and charges against HRDs in Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, DRC, Kenya, Mauritania, Niger, Rwanda, Sudan, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. In Sudan, dozens of HRDs, members of opposition parties, journalists and others were detained by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) in Khartoum, Khartoum Bahri, and Omdurman in September. The arrests took place in connection with events to commemorate the suppression of the protests of September 2013.

Death threats and attacks also remained rife and unpunished. They were reported in several countries including Côte d’Ivoire, DRC, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Threats were made by police, government officials, politicians, militias and businesses, against HRDs, their colleagues and their families. In January, Nkosilathi Emmanuel Moyo, leader of a youth organisation in Zimbabwe received threats following the publication of an open letter to President Mugabe. Fearing for his safety, the HRD was forced to flee his home. In September, human rights lawyer Wendy Wanja Mutegi was confronted by a group of men who threatened to harm her if she did not halt her work on behalf of an indigenous community in eastern Kenya, fighting against illegal logging. In March, armed assailants believed to belong to a local militia in the DRC, raided the offices of an organisation advocating for the demobilisation and welfare of child soldiers and tortured two HRDs that they found there. In September, a woman HRD working on women’s rights in northwestern Tanzania was attacked at night in her home after receiving several death threats, including through graffiti painted on her house, and was forced to temporarily close the office of her organisation.

Vulnerability to physical attacks was highest in areas torn apart by armed conflict. Women HRDs in eastern DRC were particularly exposed to physical and sexual violence, and they were the recipients of over half of the emergency assistance Front Line Defenders provided in the country. At least 11 HRDs, including six women, were abducted by rebel groups in the area, and some of them were tortured or sexually assaulted. In one case, the abducted HRD was killed: in September, the body of Mutebwa Kaboko was found in a forest eight days after his abduction by rebel group Mayi Mayi Yakutumba. In January, in South Sudan, more than 30 armed men raided the home of Biel Boutros of the South Sudan Human Rights Society for Advocacy, while firing shots in the air. In the same country, in August, anti-corruption advocate Deng Athuai Mawiir was injured by an unidentified gunman. Several HRDs from South Sudan and the Central African Republic, two of Africa’s worst hotspots for armed conflict in 2014, were forced into exile due to targeted attacks and the ongoing violence.

HRDs advocating for social and economic rights, particularly those working on accountability, raising environmental concerns or transparency in the extractive industries, were targeted in Angola, Burundi, DRC, Kenya, Niger, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, and Uganda. In the Albertine Graben region of western Uganda, HRDs reported a steadily shrinking space for dialogue with local leaders on the human rights implications of oil exploration, including the use of unlawful arrest and the disruption or banning of peaceful events. In Kenya, the conviction of Joel Ogada, a HRD and farmer who has resisted numerous evictions orchestrated by a salt company that sought to expand its activities, brought international attention to land-grabbing and the issue of corporate responsibility in the country. Ogada was handed a seven-year jail sentence in May over fabricated charges of arson. In Angola, the trial of journalist Rafael Marques de Morais started in December; he faced charges of criminal libel for writing about human rights abuses in the diamond sector.

HRDs working on discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people continued to face challenges throughout the year, particularly with the signing into law of harsh anti-homosexuality bills in Nigeria (January) and Uganda (February). Both bills provided for severe penalties for members of the LGBTI community and criminalised advocacy work done by LGBTI rights defenders. Many HRDs reported facing mob violence as well as the risk of homelessness as a result of being evicted or being rejected by their family or community. This was the case in Uganda, where one popular tabloid stepped up a campaign to “expose” the country’s “top gay people”. Although the Constitutional Court eventually overturned the law on procedural grounds, there are persistent fears that the bill might be re-tabled in Parliament. Front Line Defenders documented instances of harassment of LGBTI rights defenders in other African countries, including a coordinated mob attack on the offices of a LGBTI group in Côte d’Ivoire; the arrest of a leader of a LGBTI group in Cameroon; and a prosecution for running an unregistered group in Zimbabwe. One positive step was the adoption of a landmark resolution by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) condemning human rights violations, including systematic attacks by state and non-state actors, against persons on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity and against HRDs working on such issues.

Finally, on a positive note, in June Côte d’Ivoire enacted legislation on the protection of HRDs, becoming the first African country to take such a step, in sharp contrast to the many governments that have adopted laws restricting civil society space. Law 2014-388 incorporates provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, thus making them applicable in domestic courts; provides guarantees against the arbitrary arrest or prosecution of HRDs on the basis of their work; and offers protection of their homes and offices.


Jelili Atiku

On 1 February 2016, the Magistrate's Court of Ejigbo initiated judicial proceedings against human rights defender and artist Mr Jelili Atiku and adjourned his trial to 7 March 2016.

David Calleb Otieno

On 2 February 2016, human rights defenders Messrs David Calleb Otieno, Wilfred Olal and Ferdinand Manirerekana received death threats via text messages to their mobile phones.


On 21 January 2016, the Court of First Instance of Mundemba sentenced environmental rights defender Mr Nasako Besingi to either pay a fine of 344,400 CFA Francs (approximately €524) or serve one year imprisonment.

Human rights defender Jeremias Vunjanhe

On 11 January 2016, human rights defenders Mr Jeremias Vunjanhe and Mr Vicente Adriano were subjected to harassment and intimidation whilst participating in community consultations connected to a large-scale agribusiness project in Northern Mozambique.

Human rights defender Rozenn Kalafulo

On 7 January 2016, two human rights defenders were subjected to death threats while on a journalistic assignment at the border between Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Gisenyi, in Rwanda.