AfricanDefenders (the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network) is a network of five African sub-regional organisations, dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights defenders (HRDs) across the African continent.


From 20 to 23 April 2009, at the All Africa Human Rights Defenders Conference (Johannesburg +10), 88 HRDs from Africa and 33 international partners gathered in Kampala, Uganda, with the objective to take stock of the achievements made in the protection of human rights defenders (HRDs) since the first ‘All Africa Human Rights Defenders Conference’ held in Johannesburg in 1998.

One of the main goals of the Johannesburg +10 Conference was to understand the challenges faced by HRDs at a regional and sub-regional level, share experiences in order to identify best practices for the protection of HRDs, and encourage replication of these practices across the continent for increased impact.

Together with representatives from the United Nations (UN), the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), and the European Union (EU), participants also evaluated the effectiveness of existing protection mechanisms. In these discussions, participants paid particular attention to the challenges facing women HRDs, journalists, sexual minority HRDs, HRDs working in situations of armed conflict, in restrictive legal environments, and under political repression.

HRD networks were identified as a very powerful tool to create a more enabling environment for HRDs in the pursuit of their legitimate work.

The attendance of coordinators and members of existing sub-regional networks from West Africa, Central Africa and the East and Horn of Africa allowed for a first-hand sharing of lessons learnt, and provided further stimulus for ongoing initiatives in Northern and Southern Africa to create similar networks in these regions.

It was assessed that existing sub-regional networks had been influential in helping to promote the very notion of HRDs, to raise awareness about human rights among all stakeholders, and to foster information exchange for a better protection of HRDs. This, it was noted, contributed to the enhancement of advocacy efforts at the national, regional and international level, by channeling information to relevant stakeholders in a timely manner.

The establishment of an umbrella organisation that could help to coordinate and strengthen  sub-regional efforts was seen as a key solution to overcome many of the challenges and gaps identified in protection mechanisms. AfricanDefenders, under the name of the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network, was thus born to coordinate initiatives across the continent for the benefit of African HRDs.  Since then, AfricanDefenders has been fostering collaboration across the continent, supporting strategic advocacy efforts, contributing to the protection of HRDs at risk, and highlighting the impact of their relentless work.



Hassan Shire

Hassan Shire is the Chairperson of AfricanDefenders (the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network). Mr. Shire is also the Executive Director of DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project), which hosts AfricanDefenders in Kampala, Uganda.

Mr. Shire has founded and co-directed the Dr. Ismail Jumale Human Rights Centre (1996-2001) and was the Chairperson of Peace and Human Rights Network (1998-2001) in Mogadishu, Somalia, before he was forced to flee Somalia by extremist groups.

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While in exile in Canada, he worked with the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University and Amnesty International Canada to create the African Human Rights Defenders Project. This led to his return to the continent in 2005, and the founding of DefendDefenders in Uganda. He later co-founded the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network, and the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders network. Shire was also actively involved in building coalitions for the protection of human rights defenders in the East and Horn of Africa, namely in Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan, and Somalia/Somaliland.

Shire regularly engages with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the UN Human Rights Council, the Community of Democracies, government authorities, and African and foreign diplomatic missions for the advancement of human rights in Africa. He is currently Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of the Centre for Civil and Political Rights (Geneva, Switzerland), board member of the Institute of Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (Banjul, The Gambia), and Board member of the African Center for Justice and Peace and Studies (Kampala, Uganda).

Shire has received numerous awards from the international community including the U.S. State Department’s 2011 Human Rights Defender Award, the Leadership Awards of the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network in 2015, and the Richard C. Holbrooke Leadership Award by Refugees International in 2017.


Joseph Bikanda

Joseph Bikanda is the coordinator of the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network since October 2011. Joseph has a Masters Degree in International law, and has previously worked as a Protection Assistant with Front Line International Foundation of HRDs.

He was also Legal Officer at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Assistant to the Chairperson of the African Commission, Acting Coordinator for the activities of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa, and Technical Assistant to the Committee of the African Commission on the Protection of the Rights of People Living with HIV, and those at risk, vulnerable and affected by HIV in Africa. He was also delegated in the preparation of the 30 years anniversary of the African Charter at the secretariat of the African Commission.

Cristina Orsini

Cristina is the Hub Cities Development Associate, working to strengthen the network for the benefit of human rights defenders across Africa. She holds a MA in International Security with a focus on human rights from Sciences Po’s Paris School of International Affairs and a BA in Social Sciences from Amsterdam University College. Before joining DefendDefenders as a research fellow in April 2018, she worked in a minority rights organisation in the Netherlands, and at UNICEF Algeria.

She also co-founded a social enterprise, conducted research and published articles on human rights issues, including a short documentary on refugees in Greece. Cristina is fluent in English, French and Italian.


AfricanDefenders Steering Committee is composed of representatives of the five sub-regional networks, as well as representatives of the groups of HRDs identified as requiring specific protection due to their specific vulnerabilities.

Arnold Tsunga

Arnold Tsunga is a highly experienced Zimbabwean human rights lawyer and the Director of the Africa regional programme of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ). He is the founding Executive Director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, and a past Executive Secretary of the Law Society of Zimbabwe.

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In addition to his role as a member of AfricanDefenders’ steering committee, he sits and contributes on a number of boards of non-profit organisations such as the Martin Ennals Award Foundation (MEA-Geneva), Crisis Action (CA-London), Frontline Human Rights Defenders (Dublin), and Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) South Africa. He is past vice president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH-Paris), a former Advisory Committee member for the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch (HRW), past Chairperson of the CRISIS COALITION in Zimbabwe, and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZIMRIGHTS), among others.

He has received international recognition for his role in promoting and protecting human rights including the Human Rights Watch Human Rights Defender Award (2006-7), the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights defenders (2006), and the Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition ( US Congress – 2006).

Maximilienne Ngo Mbe

Maximilienne Ngo Mbe is a human rights defender and activist, and the Executive Director for the Network of Human Rights Defenders of Central Africa (Réseau de Défenseurs des Droits Humains de l’Afrique Centrale – REDHAC), based in Cameroon. In this capacity, she has supported civil society organisations and activists across Africa to tap into different mechanisms for defending and protecting human rights.

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In addition to AfricanDefenders, she is a member of the Coalition for an African Court for efficient Human and Peoples Rights, the Working Group of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the situation of Women Defenders, its Study Group on Freedom of Association and Meetings, the Platform for Temporary Relocation of defenders at risk set up by the European Commission, a consultant to the African Union on issues of democracy, elections, and governance, and Elections Observer of the African Union.

Pepe Julian Onziema

Pepe Julian Onziema is Programme Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), an advocacy network based in Kampala with the aim to strengthen the rights of sexual and gender minorities. As an activist and human rights defender, he has been speaking out on sexual and gender minorities issues at the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Council. In 2012, he was awarded the Clinton Global Citizen Award for Leadership in Civil Society for his pioneering work advocating for the rights of sexual and gender minorities, and also received Stonewall’s “Hero of the Year” award in 2014.


The Secretariat of AfricanDefenders (The Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network) is hosted by DefendDefenders (The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project).

Human Rights House
Plot 1853 Lulume Road, Nsambya
PO Box 70356
Kampala, Uganda

Phone: +256 393202133
Email: [email protected]