Joseph Bikanda, Coordinator of Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network, has the floor

April 16, 2015

The Newsletter of International Service for Human Rights in Geneva gave on 2 April 2015 the floor to Joseph Bikanda, the Coordinator of the Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network (PAHRDN), a Network made up of 5 sub-regional networks of human right defenders (HRDs), including the East and Horn of Africa, the Central, the West, the Southern and the North African HRDs Networks.

Joseph first became involved in human rights as a university student. A group of students needed a voice to advocate on their behalf. Joseph became that voice. In doing so, Joseph learnt about human rights mechanisms existing at the time. ‘I found myself surrounded by the human rights world and knew that it was the right place for me. Since then I have been working in human rights in various capacities.

Joseph stated that PAHRDN’s key focus is to strengthen the capacity and provide support to regional networks, civil society organisations and HRDs. ‘You are always stronger working together in a network, and if each element of the network is more capable and works together – you are even stronger’

..Regional and international human rights mechanisms support HRDs, but networks such as PAHRDN are essential to create local supporting mechanisms for HRDs’.. Joseph explains that PAHRDN has established local mechanisms to ‘fill the gap as best we can’. These mechanisms include providing emergency support, lawyers, trial observation and practical support for HRDs.

One of our key roles is to provide support for HRDs in emergency situations when they are being harassed, targeted or when their lives are in danger. We have also created urgent mechanisms which apply pressure to perpetrators of human rights abuses.’

Joseph commented on the essential role that HRDs played in initiating the development of the law for the protection of HRDs in Côte d’Ivoire. He shared his hope that each African country develops similar laws in the near future and, in particular, that each of those laws is effectively implemented. ‘I hope to see HRDs develop further as key actors combatting corruption and promoting transparency. Involving HRDs in decisions ensures that the views of civil society are raised and considered.’

In his discussion with ISHR, Joseph identified that his primary objectives of attending the March session of the Human Rights Council were to raise awareness of – the horrific situation in Burundi, in particular the persecution of journalists and HRDs; the continued fighting in South Sudan and the abduction of children for combat; and the concerning counter terrorism laws in Cameroon and Ethiopia, which lack differentiation between defenders and terrorists.

You can follow Joseph Bikanda on Twitter at @Bikjo.

Joseph Bikanda: Coordinator of Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network | ISHR.

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