Mechanisms for collective and cross-sector support

Brian Byaruhanga Sept. 2, 2020

In repressive contexts, mechanisms for collective and cross-sector support, like alliances and collaboration can strengthen the local human rights defenders environment. Here is why.


Aware of the working conditions that human rights defenders, activists and journalists experience in internet and civic repressive environments, collaboration is a necessity that often leads to new approaches, as well as challenges and processes towards effectively accomplishing key and shared initiatives.

Alliances can be effective support mechanisms for collective and cross-sector supportin repressive environments by creating collective knowledge, exploring common issues, requiring input from diverse opinions and asking questions. This will help you to think critically about your experiences and provoke a conversation steered towards the formation of strategies for alliance development.

Unfortunately, the recent trend towards authoritarianism, even among some longstanding democracies is weakening civic space by degrading civic freedoms and threatening human rights defenders, activists and journalists. It is therefore essential to establish coordinated/joint support structures and for collective and cross-sector support to respond to their needs, such as in combating institutional surveillance, censorship and harassment. This coupled with effective intuitive and sustainable engagement initiatives for digital rights advocacy and human rights awareness to promote peace, democracy, civic freedoms and rights.

Mechanisms for collective and cross-sector support have made it possible for the rapid response to organisations that have been victims to digital security incidents that would usually take several days to get adequate support. Collective mechanisms such as the Digital Security Alliance have pooled matching resources to cater for rapid response and digital security support to organisations that do not have ICT expertise. This has turned out to be an effective mechanism that has a need for support and further development.

In Uganda the security establishments, agents and agencies have been using the excuse of the COVID19 pandemic to stifle civil and human rights in one way or another. In return, there is also evidence of how a collaborative mechanism for cross-sector support was able to get the word out and force the government to release a group of individuals allegedly arrested for flaunting COVID19 regulations. The security working group (SWG) is a collaborative mechanism by human rights organsations working together to promote and protect the security of minority groups and individuals in Uganda. This is a good example of how collective mechanisms have been able to  effectively promote human rights an produce actionable solutions through collective voices

Challenges for collective mechanisms

But not every collective mechanism for collective and cross-sector support is as inclusive as promoted. Some collectives do not offer a voice to minority members mainly because the majority of the membership is from mainstream organizations. Other challenges include lack of trust as some actors considers others as competitors, uneven commitment among actors or lack of a solid foundation which creates power imbalance.

A solution could be to jointly setting out clear roles and other principles right from the inception of the collaboration, mutual respect across board.  

The Enforcement of the Data Protection and Privacy Act 2019 created a base to make privacy and data protection accessible to every citizen in Uganda. To see this becoming reality, a collaborative strategy, including collective engagements with relevant state actors to ensure that enforcement mechanisms are urgently instituted.

Impact of the efforts of the women at web project as a collective mechanism

The women at web project has been a successful collective mechanism that has worked to empower women to fight violence against women online, through capacity building and advocacy campaigns. The project involves organisations from not only Uganda, but Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania. In Uganda, the women at web project is a partnership between Defenders Protection Initiative, CIPESA, Unwanted Witness and Her Empire. These organisations have worked together to make sure that the scurge of violence against women online is not only exposed but also to empower women to be able to use onlince spaces without fear of being victims to violence against women.

Consequences of repression to the work of the non profit and rights based entities

- censorship and failure to hold state actors accountable

- Non vibrant CSO

- Withdrawal

Some of the collective mechanisms for support in Uganda

  1. Digital Human Rights Lab
  2. Digital Security Alliance
  3. Women at Web Uganda
  4. Security Working Group

Session participants

The facilitator of the session, Brian Byaruhanga, is the digital security executive at Defenders Protection Initiative in Uganda, an NGO that aims to protect and promote human rights, peace, democracy and good governance. He is a Coordinator of the Digital Security Alliance in Uganda, a collective mechanism by human rights defenders organisations and digital security experts in Uganda. DSA provides digital security support, rapid response and technical assistance to HRDs, journalists and activists in Uganda that are either facing a threat or are in need and do not have access to ICT expertise. Additionally, he leads the Digital security CoP, supported by DHRLab that is working on a standard digital security curriculum for human rights defenders especially in Uganda.

Tobi Adeleke works as a Project Manager for the Digital Human Rights Lab at Future Challenges in Berlin. She is also a doctoral researcher at the Humboldt University of Berlin.

Kelly Daniel, the Executive Director for i freedom Uganda Network and the Secretary for Gender and Disability at the ISOC-UG Executive Committee. He contributed towards the development of the feminist principals on the Net with the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and has led digital security trainings for over 700 sexual and gender minorities in Uganda since 2013.

Dorothy Mukasa is Executive Director of Unwanted Witness, a civil society organization (CSO) that was established to respond to the gap in effective communication using various online expression platforms. She is also a partner in the women at web Uganda, a partner based project that aims to empower women in online spaces to fight violence against women online.

Tim Kakuru is the Director of Programs and Impact at BarefootLaw. He specializes in innovating ways of providing legal services to the end of making access to justice available for all. He is a continuing student of the laws and an advocate for all the positive potentials that technology holds for humanity. He has over ten years of experience working on access to justice fields and believes deeply in the power of applied knowledge and the potential of citizens to improve their livelihoods given the knowledge of the laws that affect them.