AfricanDefenders organises workshop on strengthening the local implementation of the Ubuntu Hub Cities initiative

Communiqué on the Ubuntu Hub Cities coordinators workshop

  1. From 4 to 8 November 2019AfricanDefenders (the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network) organised a workshop that brought together hub cities coordinators and implementing partners of the Ubuntu Hub Cities initiative to strengthen the local implementation of the initiative. 

  2. The Ubuntu Hub Cities initiative is a city-based relocation initiative for human rights defenders (HRDs) at risk across Africa. The initiative enables HRDs who have been subject to threats, violence, and extreme pressure due to their human rights work to relocate within Africa as a last resort of their protection. This allows them to be safe and to take a break from their highly stressful and dangerous environment, while continuing their work, learning new skills, and sharing their experience with HRDs in similar situations.

  3. The aim of the workshop was to bring together the Ubuntu Hub Cities coordinators, psychosocial specialists, and HRDs who have benefitted from the programme to discuss avenues to enhance collaboration and improve the experience of relocated HRDs under the Ubuntu Hub Cities initiative. The specific objectives of the workshops were to share best practices across the continent to inform internal guidelines for assessment and placement of HRDs, to define the roles of hub cities coordinators, and to strengthen psychosocial and wellbeing programme for HRDs relocated under the Ubuntu Hub Cities initiative.

  4. Under the leadership of AfricanDefenders and DefendDefenders, the workshop highlighted the origin of the Ubuntu Hub Cities initiative as a programme established to fill protection gaps and to challenge the notion that HRDs can only find safety outside the African continentParticipants were invited to assess successes and challenges, in order to design recommendations tailored to cater to the needs of HRDs at risk in Africa.

  5. The workshop continued with an open conversation with HRDs relocated under the Ubuntu Hub Cities initiative, notably from Burundi, Cameroon, Sudan, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)Libya, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe, with the aim of assessing risk factors and understanding their experience. The HRDs highlighted the importance of the support received, which helped them to feel a sense of recognition, to find safety, and to learn new skills or expand their network. Nevertheless, some challenges were mentioned, including issues of cultural, administrative, and logistical orientation in the host countries, as well as financial and emotional difficulties linked to leaving their families behind. 

  6. Based on the discussionparticipants elaborated recommendations to fill existing gaps. These included linking HRDwith local volunteers who can support their social integration, creating an alumni group for relocated HRDs to connect and exchangeto develop an integrated psychosocial and wellbeing support programme, and to have a systematic approach to family support.

  7. Furthermore, Jacob van Garderen, human rights lawyer and coordinator of Ubuntu Hub Cities in South Africa, and Pedan Marthe Coulibaly, coordinator of the Ivorian Human Rights Defenders Coalition (CIDDH) and the Ubuntu Hub City in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, took stock of the successes in relocating HRDs to South Africa and Cote d’Ivoire, respectively, and they highlighted the importance of strengthening the network of local stakeholders who can contribute to a comprehensive and continuous accompaniment of relocated HRDs. 

  8. Participants then adopted concrete strategies for the development of an integrated programme for HRDs relocated under the Ubuntu Hub Cities, with particular focus on accompaniment and follow up, placements and professional development, giving value to HRDs’ experiences and skills, and providing family support while integrating a gender perspective. After a collective review, the internal guidelines for the assessment and placements of HRDs under the Ubuntu Hub Cities initiative were also validated and adopted.

  9. Wellbeing, resourcing, and resilience of relocated HRDs were explored with the contributions of psychosocial support experts, Simon Ndaula, consultant and psychologist in Uganda, Hajar El Kefi psychotherapist and educator in Tunisia, Dr. Guillaume Dje, lecturer and psychologist at the University of Cote d’Ivoire, Gugu Tsabalala, psychotherapist with the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in South Africa, and Zakarias Girmae, exiled HRDs from Eritrea who has engaged in psychosocial work. The discussion looked at the potential reluctance of HRDs to focus on wellbeing and self-care,and stressed the importance of integrating a psychosocial approach at every step of the relocation to ensure a welcoming and enabling environment for relocated HRDs. Drawing from the experts’ contributions, participants collectively designed an integrated model for wellbeing, resourcing, and resilience during relocation. Ideas for improvement included the development of a stress management toolkit for HRDs, and a wellbeing training for key stakeholders involved in the relocation. Recommendations taken from the Barcelona Guidelines on Wellbeing and Temporary Internal Relocation of Human Rights Defenders were also helpful for the process.

  10. To ensure consistent communication, it was agreed to establish a secure platform for continuous engagement between stakeholders in the different hub cities. With the support of DefendDefenders’ security management and Defenders Tech departments, participants were also provided with physical and digital security tips, with a focus on secure communication and documentation.

  11. On 8 November 2019at the last day of the workshop, Hassan Shire, AfricanDefenders’ Chairperson, officially launched the report on the AfricanDefenders ConventionJohannesburg+20, held in Zanzibar, Tanzania, in June 2019.  In addition to the proceedings of the Convention, the report includes the reviewed Kampala Plan of Action (KAPA+10), which will guide AfricanDefenders’ work in the next ten years, including a commitment to continuously strengthen the Ubuntu Hub Cities initiative to ensure that HRDs in Africa can be safe but not silent.