Let’s Continue Fighting For Human Rights in Uganda

Marion Apio Dec. 2, 2021

After three years of successfully implementing and growing the digital human rights lab (DHRLab) community in Uganda, over sixty DHRLab human rights defenders and activists came together to celebrate each other's accomplishments in strengthening human rights in the country both online and offline. These were also joined by DHRLab partners including StartHub, GIZ and Pollicy on Friday 12th November 2021 in Kampala to discuss what the future holds for the DHRLab community.


Shortly after I finished my undergraduate studies in December 2020 at Makerere University, I joined the Digital Human Rights Lab (DHRLab) community of human rights defenders, activists and innovators. This was after my team (The Debunk) successfully won the 2021 DHRLab Innovation program that supports digital solutions to human rights challenges in Uganda. My name is Marion Apio, join me as we celebrate the three impactful years of the DHRLab.

What did we achieve?

After three years, the DHRLab community convened to celebrate its first chapter. There were several success stories in praise of the DHRLab and testimonies from the members of the communities of practice (COPs), the innovation program teams and the broader community of DHRLab.

The significant impact of Covid-19 put a number of businesses to a standstill and pushed many people online. For this community, there was more work to do like protecting the mental health of human rights defenders and promoting access to digital resources for persons with disabilities and minorities, and ensuring digital safety and security for all.

Bonnita Nyamwire, a member of the COP for Digital Inclusion said that the DHRLab tremedously supported the implementation of COP activitiess and this enabled them to get involved in grassroot conversations and engagements with other human rights defenders across the country. “As Human Rights activists in Kampala, we did advocacy work and collaborated with other human rights defenders upcountry for example in Gulu and this helped bridge the urban-rural gap that has always existed in the ecosystem,” she said.

While showcasing their digital solutions, Don Zane Muwanguzi team lead Awesome Minds Speaks expressed his gratitude for the lab. He highlighted the huge link between mental health and data, yet there is just not enough data to support and prove the mental health challenge in Uganda. “Thanks to the DHRLab, our innovation KeepChatty which is a low data application software that provides real time access to accurate information on mental health services and links young people to join mental health groups was launched,” he noted.


There were eight digital innovations supported by the DHRLab through the Innovation Program including DebunkBot, Iroom, SafeBangles, Centers4Her, Kuchu Care among others.

Sophie Dienberg, who is the Head of Innovation Programs and the Consulting Lead at StartHub Africa, said that they used a human-centered design approach and supported teams implement their innovative solutions in such a way that they are tailored to the needs identified and the areas of action mirrored the Digital Human Rights Challenges in Uganda.

“It was about building a community of changemakers that started collaborating and supporting each other. We provided guidance, mentorship and shared feedback to the teams. The program was inclusive and the teams successfully developed a product or service that is working. They also gained knowledge and skills and three out eight teams have secured follow up funding even before the Innovation program ended,” she said.


Phillip Ayazika, DHRLab Engagement Lead highlighted that the Lab brought over 100 human rights defenders together and also built a community that resulted into the formation of five Communities of Practice (COPs) that are implementing close to 40 short and long term projects and events.

“Our budding group of innovators implemented digital solutions in these past three years. We have engaged physically and virtually, operated across 20 districts and have a podcast telling stories of human rights defenders. The lab has created various resources for our community and has prioritized issues like mental health aimed at building resilience of HRDs during tough times. We have also initiated collaborations and individuals work and support each other,” he remarked.

How to move forward - The Next Chapter

GIZ representative Esther Sommer congratulated the DHRLab community for the great milestones and encouraged the COPs to continue operating. She pledged GIZ’s commitment towards promoting human rights in Uganda and their continued support towards the growth and success of the DHRLab.

Mohammed Kimbugwe, the Technical Advisor at GIZ called for more digital solutions and innovation in the country. He emphasized the need for human rights defenders to look at the digital challenges as opportunities and through collaboration, advocate for the most excluded and marginalized groups.

I envision the community growing, collaborating and taking the lead in addressing the most pressing human rights challenges in Uganda. When I asked Sophie about her vision for the next Chapter, she wishes the community is more self-organized, collaborating on innovative projects to tackle fundamental human rights challenges and are using a human-centered approach.

Phillip envisions more support for the CoPs to transition into independent consortiums that will keep learning from each other at different levels. Meanwhile, Bonnita hopes that the next chapter of the lab looks at sustainable mechanisms to keep the CoPs in action even when the seed funding period has ended.

Uganda now has a digital security curriculum, said Brian Byaruhanga, the lead for CoPs on digital security. According to Brian, the next chapter should continue to highlight the digital inequalities in this digital era while focusing on the lessons learnt from our previous engagements. It should also promote digital literacy which is still a huge gap during this ubiquitous digitalization period, he added.


I hope you enjoyed this blog and if you're part of the community, hope you continue to do the great work of strengthening human rights in Uganda. Congratulations Digital Human Rights Lab Community! Mwebale Nyo! Walwa Swa! Asante and Herzlichen Glückwunsch!