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NGOs launch a fund to defend human rights activities at the grassroots level

Joshua Nahamya

Mbarara

About 40 civil society organizations in the Ankole sub-region have launched an organization dubbed “Grassroots Defenders Fund (GDF)” to mobilize resources to finance their activities while fighting for the people’s rights in communities.

Number One Irene, GDF Chairperson insisted that the fund is not for the person whose rights have been violated but to help the human rights defenders to get out of some challenges encountered while fighting for the rights of people.

“This organisation is meant to secure funds to these other organisations in case there is an urgent need. For example when human rights defenders or journalists are imprisoned we can use this money to obtain bail or bond, replace the vandalised equipment in the field and deploy moral support in case of depression among others”

During the fund launch on Friday at Hotel Triangle in Mbarara City, Irene confirmed a total of about Shs 150 mln collected from membership and an annual subscription to kick start the resource mobilization to support CSOs in Uganda.

“Through All in one Women’s Association (ALOWA as our partner organisation, we have started this fund with an amount of Shs 155, 760,000. We call upon all Ugandans and other groups which are still there to come and be part of the fund so that we work together to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.” She said

According to Irene, an individual pays a membership of Shs 50,000 and an annual subscription of Shs 100,000 while organisations pay a membership of Shs 100,000.

“On an individual basis membership is Shs 50,000, and annual subscript of Shs 100,000 then for organizations, membership is 200,000, and annual subscription we are still discussing. Well-wishers if you have any kind of support you can reach us donations@dgf.org.ug,” She said

Irene said that the fund proposal came from a 5-day orientation training program, whereby CSOs realized that there is a need to have a fund that will be solvent to financial constraints.

“It is important to recognize that grassroot human defenders and journalists have a duty to promote and protect human rights and civic freedoms. Therefore to ensure their security and protection, we realised that we need to start a fund to support their activism in case there is any emergency support to defenders throughout Uganda.” She explained

Irene insisted that the fund would only support the human rights defenders urgently against the eventualities while executing their work.

“So far we have over 30 registered member organisations. GDF is a fund of the grassroot defenders and it only focuses on members, any person who is not a member is not allowed to benefit and there are certain parameters we look at before you get a fund,” She said

However, Irene said the membership and annual subscription cannot sustain GDF, thus calling upon funders and well-wishers to support the fund for the grassroots human rights activities in Uganda.

“We shall be contacting donors and I hope there are so many people out there who are willing to give a hand either financially or materialistically but before you look from your neighbour it has to start with you. Otherwise we cannot only depend on membership subscription; this is just a curtain raiser to mobilise more support from donors and well-wishers.” She explained

Barnabas Tugumisirize- Director Civic Space Movement.

The support will cover urgent and short-term assistance such as bail and bond applications, urgent medical bills, security measures like temporary relocation costs, hiring private security, and installation of security infrastructure like CCTV cameras, trial monitoring fees, humanitarian family, and dependency support among others.

Shallon Ndyamusiima, GDF national coordinator, embraced the fund testifying that it has come at the right time when human rights defenders and journalists who are usually at the forefront facing intimidation and harassment from human rights violators.

“The biggest challenge that we face is intimidation from the oppressors and those who support oppressors. But the world needs human rights defenders and as GDF that is why we have established the fund to have a backup and protect them if anything happens” Ndyamusiima said

She said that without money, there are no human rights defenders in Uganda especially on access to hard-to-reach areas.

“We all know that you cannot run any activity when you don’t have money. And these organisations came telling us we want to do activities but we don’t have funds so we hope GDF will be our relief” Ndyamusiima said

Dona Kyomugisha, Director Centre for Women in Development and coordinator of the GDF Ankole sub-region said “We carry out a lot of interventions to the people whose rights have been violated in the villages and this means that when we don’t have funds then our hands remain tied”.

“We sensitise communities to understand their rights and you cannot do all that work without money. This is a reason as to why we are calling upon the well-wishers of justice to support the fund” Komugisha said

She pledged that they are going to work with the government, especially the Uganda Human Rights Commission, as the chief defenders of human rights to protect and promote human rights among the citizens of Uganda.

“We can’t distance ourselves from the government and we have no ill intentions against the government but to work with the government to protect the rights of Ugandans,” Komugisha said

Barnabas Tugumisirize, Director of Civic Space Movement, added that the fund will help human rights defenders and journalists who are battling with court cases as a result of human rights violations that slow trumped up charges against them.

“You are aware that some human rights defenders including journalists are harassed, some of them are in prison and they are charged with criminal summons so we need this fund that we shall put in place to help them get justice,” Tugumisiriza said

Fiona Masika, Coordinator, of Friends of Women Initiative (FROWI), said that to be a human rights defender doesn’t mean any special qualification thus encouraging her colleagues to remain strong and fight for the rights of oppressed people.

“Being a human rights defender is inherent, no one coaches you no one gives you the tips to become one but human rights violators out there are after us because they feel like we are interfering their business yet for us we are implementing human rights advocacy as part of our role to help people who are unable to help themselves” Masika said

One of the human rights defender calling for sustainability of the fund.

“While we are defending these grassroot people as defenders, how are we being helped to make sure that our lives are not in danger as well? So let us sustain this fund and let it be resourceful to us who find ourselves in emergency situations” Masika added

The chief guest Christine Ainomugisha, from the Uganda Human Rights Commission Western Region Mbarara, pointed out that government officials are the lead people behind human rights violations thus requesting human rights defenders to report such matters to the Uganda Human Rights Commission.

“Mostly the violators are government officials right from LC I up to the President’s office I would say. So my advice is that should a violator be a government official, that matter should be directed to the Uganda human rights commission for further management. Wherever you are we are the stakeholders working with you and mandated to handle the violations of human rights where government workers are involved” Ainomugisha said

We also experience challenges like what some of you experience daily. The only difference is that as a government institution, we are mandated to promote human rights and therefore we do the work with due diligence, she reported.

Thus Ainomugisha challenged the CSOs to always bring all government entities on board to get protection when executing their work.

“In such cases intimidation is high. It is better to witness offices which deal with corruption. Like in every region we have the office of the IGG and then the anti-corruption unit under the state house so if you have an agent in your area and corruption is involved in distorting facts then it is better for the office of the IGG to take over the investigations.”  She explained

Ainomugisha also challenged the human rights defenders to always try dialogue when handling family matters before rushing to courts of law which comes with a cost.

“Always first mediate, and should you fail to agree with a party then write a referral letter to a magistrate responsible for family and children matters,” she said

Ainomugisha appealed to the human rights defenders to always do their work with passion and devotion.

“Human rights defenders’ work is not easy per say. One must be patient, empathetic and be a good listener to be able to come out with a solution”

“As human rights defenders, I urge you to learn as much as possible to pull all the stakeholders on board. When you listen to a case it is best to know which office can handle this matter so that you refer it there to be safer because safety of our lives is very paramount. Much as we are human rights defenders, we need to be alive for us to be able to serve.” She emphasised

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