Austria, Holland pledge €1.35mn to Africa rights advocates

By Halima Athumani

KAMPALA (AA) –The Dutch and Austrian governments said Friday that they would fund a three-year project to support African human rights advocates.

At a meeting in Ugandan capital Kampala, diplomats from both countries announced that their governments would provide 1.35 million euros to finance a three-year project devoted to "the protection and safety of human rights defenders in Uganda and Africa."

"We have seen that human rights violations are still a problem," Simone Knapp, head of development and cooperation at the Austrian embassy in Kampala, told The Anadolu Agency.

Knapp said the funding would go towards supporting human rights initiatives and rights-related NGOs.

"The possibility for human rights defenders to interact and come out with their grievances is limited in certain countries, so we feel they really need more support," she added.

"Human rights and human rights defenders remain at risk. With the upcoming elections in Uganda, we are monitoring the situation very closely," she said.

Knapp went on to warn of the possibility that "human rights will be violated… as they were in the past, so support is needed."

She expects the government "not only to respect and protect human rights within their own territory, but to support the full realization of rights and freedoms around the world."

Speaking to AA, Hassan Shire, who heads the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, asserted: "The space available for rights defenders is shrinking; this is a global phenomenon and Uganda is no exception."

Shire highlighted the challenges facing rights advocates, including restrictive legislation, noting that state and non-state actors often took matters into their own hands and lacked awareness about rights advocates' rights.

"This environment has forced us to seek some kind of cooperation from donor-friendly countries to make the situation bearable for human rights defenders in Uganda and Africa," Shire said.

The African "rights defenders" project seeks to strengthen the work of rights advocates in the region by reducing their vulnerability to potential persecution. To protect them, Shire says, it is vital to enhance their capacity to effectively defend human rights. 

Theo Oltheten, first secretary for rule of law and political affairs at the Dutch embassy in Uganda said: "The safety and protection of human rights defenders needs to remain a top priority on the human rights agenda."

He added: "We need to help them do an even better job now and be well prepared to deal with the new challenges ahead of us in 2015 and beyond."

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