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For the love of human rights- Busia HRDs

Like many other HRDs, Rose faces many obstacles in her work

For the love of human rights- Busia HRDs

The sun is falling reluctantly below the hill ahead of us when a silhouette of a woman flags us down at an obsolete path covered with corn snarled up with tiny plants with bean-like leaves. Below it, four houses built distances apart. The driver pulls the car over before making a steady halt that we receive with a deep sigh of relief. Our faces express a mixture of fatigue, shock and empathy as we come out to talk to the familiar figure standing outside the car.

Despite the flashes of smile that she accessorises her greetings and introductions with, my team is still staring in awe. It is now dark and a small lantern is struggling against the wind to stay alive in the middle of the room. I am scanning my environment, astounded by the happy host chatting with us oblivious of her humble and remote setup summed up with the rugged roads that lead to her home. 

The distance from the main road couldn’t have been more than 30kilometres, but it had taken us over two hours to get here. Once, our car had gotten stuck in the muddy potholes and several other times, we had to stop and wait for other stuck cars to be pulled out off the road. Our phones had already picked the roaming Uganda network while the radio stations buzzed noisily after losing signals. This is what a human rights defender whom we have come to visit goes through every day to reach the scattered people. 

We meet Rose Ekeya, a middle-aged human rights defender (HRD) in Teso South, Busia County at her homestead where she stays with her mother and brothers. She studied marketing, worked for a few years before quitting to pursue her passion in defending the rights of the people who could not speak up for themselves. Rose has been a HRD for over 25years and her determination and strength, is visible through her voice. She believe that the constitution obligates everyone to be a HRD and this work, she emphasizes, is her satisfaction.

Like many other HRDs, Rose faces many obstacles in her work. Rose met her greatest hurdle in 2012 while pursuing a murder case where a child was killed by a police. In her quest for justice to the child, Rose received several anonymous calls threatening to kill her if she didn’t drop the case. Worse came when a police officer she could not identify promised her death if she did not let go of the case. 

She went to exile for 3 months and upon her return, Rose was isolated and condemned by some members of her community causing her to go into a depression for close to a month, before she sought treatment. The Ateso community, which she belongs to, consider her work outrageous for women which majorly contributed to her oppression especially since she was not married in her late 30s. Rose however, never contemplated giving up her new work that no one pays for.

Despite her humour as she talks to us, Rose holds with intense emotions. She regrets the deep cultural rooting of her people that contribute largely to the abuses of human rights and the hurdles she faces in her work. At this point, the strong-willed HRD lightly opens up about how assured she is that her brothers -who own most of the houses in the compound- will kick her out of the homestead if her old ailing mother dies. Her eyes become dim and her voice drops as she speaks and you can tell how hard she’s struggling not to face the matter yet. 

Rose chose to focus on the inequality faced by women in her community hence her rooting in human rights defence work. She has received numerous trainings on this area and she in turn empowers her community with the knowledge individually and in public forums. The irony however is, the women whom she defends against domestic and gender violence perceive her as an enemy, out to break their marriages.

This is a glimpse of what other HRDs that we talked to in in Busia County undergo to ensure they promote and protect human rights. Busia County has long been beset by numerous violations of human rights. Frequent complaints to Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and media reports indicate an increase in human rights violations. It is on this background that KNCHR in partnership with European Union developed a project to aiming at empowering HRDs in this region to enhance the promotion of human rights.

KNCHR and EU continue to work with HRDs in this region to offer support through informative trainings and public forums to asses and improve the working environment of HRDS; with the ultimate aim of promoting and protecting human rights.

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