SOUTHERN Defenders, a group of civil society organizations from across the southern African region, called for the protection of human rights defenders, adding that governments must respect their freedoms.

In their statement to commemorate International Human Rights Day last Friday, they said respect for human rights will lead to economic growth for countries in southern Africa.

“Southern Defenders calls on the governments of Southern Africa to respect, promote and protect all internationally recognized and constitutionally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms, such as, but not limited to, freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, ”said Southern Defenders. Defenders team leader Washington Katema said in a statement.

“We urge governments in the region to protect civic, democratic and civil society space online and offline. A country that respects human rights has a better chance of developing inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

Katema praised frontline human rights defenders, who he said have remained the protective shield of citizens and pro-democracy activists who are at risk in southern Africa and beyond.

“Southern Defenders is heartened by the sacrifice, resilience and tenacity demonstrated by human rights defenders in the debilitating new wave of authoritarianism and inequality amid pervasive COVID-19.

“Leaders in southern Africa and beyond must demonstrate the political will to promote a culture of human rights in their respective countries. It is also time to move from survival rights to free speech rights. Our people deserve the full menu of rights. Another Cabo Delgado is possible, another Nampula is possible, another Tete is possible, another Zimbabwe is possible and indeed, another Swaziland is possible. Together we defend.

“And as 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) draws to a close, Southern Defenders reiterates that women’s rights are human rights. The scale of opportunities is always unbalanced in favor of men. This situation must change. We need all hands on the bridge to stimulate the radical transformation and the balance of power that is so needed. “