Postponed twice in 2014 due to the expansion of the Ebola virus in West Africa, the 56th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights will finally be held in Banjul, the Gambia from 21 April to 7 May 2015. Ahead of the session, a forum bringing together African and international NGOs was held over three days from 17 to 19 April in Banjul.
The major topics of the session will include women human rights defenders, freedom of association and peaceful assembly, reprisals, defenders working on corporate accountability and examinations of the States party to the African Charter ... more
KEY ACTIVITIES AT THe ngo forum
ABOUT THE NGO FORUM
The NGO Forum, held from 17-19 April prior to the 56th ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), involved close to 200 civil society participants from the continent.
The NGO Forum followed the practice of holding a series of panel discussions combined with smaller special interest discussion groups, over the course of which recommendations and resolutions were developed to put to the Commission at the upcoming session.
AFRICAN WOMEN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS CALL ON STATES FOR RECOGNITION AND PROTECTION
ISHR organized a panel discussion to highlight the situation of women human rights defenders in the African continent, the threats and attacks they face and their specific protection needs.
Panelists included Fadzai Muparutsa (Coalition of African Lesbians, South Africa), Tilder Kumichii (Gender Empowerment and Development, Cameroon) and Pédan Marthe Coulibaly (Côte d’Ivoire Coalition of Human Rights Defenders).
The panel took place ahead of the official launch of the ACHPR report on the situation of women human rights defenders in Africa, which is to be on 23 April 2015, during the 56th ordinary session of the ACHPR... more
UPDATE ON REGIONAL REPRISALS CONSULTATION
A regional consultation held in the Ivory Coast in February 2015 focused on strategies to be adopted by the ACHPR and civil society to prevent and address reprisals against individuals and groups cooperating with the African human rights system.
The ACHPR at its 55th ordinary session mandated its Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders to be a focal point on the issue of reprisals. In this light, the consultation aimed to gather inputs from civil society that would help inform the working methods of the focal point, in order to ensure that it is effective and responsive to the needs of human rights defenders.
Clément Voulé (ISHR) and Rosalind Hanzi (Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights) provided updates to the NGO Forum to inform broader African civil society of the discussions that took place. The consultation deliberated several strategies, drawing from experiences in addressing reprisals at the UN level. These included the need to better understand existing avenues to address instances of reprisals when they occur, including through developing a roadmap for interaction between victims of reprisals and the ACHPR focal point on reprisals, and an effective communications policy between the focal point and victims.
The consultation also identified the need for better reporting to the ACHPR on instances of reprisals and the establishment of a database to document these cases. Furthermore, it was viewed that a handbook on reprisals would enable human rights defenders to better identify whether the threats, harassment and intimidation they face is in relation to their engagement with the African human rights system, and how best to respond.
FORUM INTERACTS WITH STUDY GROUP ON FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION AND ASSEMBLY
On behalf of the study group which developed the ACHPR report on the right to freedom of association and assembly - in close collaboration with the ACHPR Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders - Clément Voulé (ISHR) and Emerson Sykes (ICNL) provided updates to the NGO Forum on the scope and contents on the report. Reine Alapini Gansou, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, articulated the context in the African region that compelled the African Commission to develop this study – particularly as civil society in Africa face increasing restrictions to conduct their work in a free and impartial manner, and peaceful assemblies are systematically cracked down upon.
The report was adopted at the 55th ordinary session of the ACHPR and will be officially launched at the upcoming 56th ordinary session beginning 21 April 2015. Its comprehensive methodology compiled inputs from the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network as well as the various sub-regional human rights defenders networks and coalitions. Inputs were also collected from national human rights institutions and States.
Following up from the report, the Special Rapporteur and the study group are to develop a set of guiding principles to provide a framework to assist African States to better protect the right to freedom of association and assembly in the continent. The study group has invited civil society to provide their views and inputs towards this end.
HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER PROFILE
TILDER KUMICHII Programme Coordinator at Gender Empowerment and Development, Cameroon
‘My motivation to do human rights work stems from my personal experience as a young woman growing up in a patriarchal system, which forced me to marry very young and become a very young widow’... more
OUTCOMES OF THE NGO FORUM
ANALYSIS OF THE SITUATION FACING HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
There was extensive discussion on the situation of HRDs in the continent, particularly given the rise of their surveillance and monitoring in countries including Benin, Mali, Togo, Ivory Coast and Cameroon. Furthermore, the enactment and arbitrary application of national security laws to restrict the activities and funding of NGOs in the name of counter-terrorism was a key issue of common concern.
The NGO Forum adopted a resolution calling on the ACHPR to urge African States to guarantee that existing anti-terrorism legislation is not misused for the monitoring and restriction of the work of HRDs by bringing them in line with international standards that guarantee human rights promotion and protection, and to allow HRDs charged under counter-terrorism laws to have due process before a court of law.
The NGO Forum also adopted a resolution calling on the ACHPR to urge African States to take full consideration of their report on the situation of WHRDs in Africa as well as to implement the recommendations contained therein and report on the progress at their periodic reviews.
RECOMMENDATIONS MADE ON FREEDOMS OF ASSOCIATION, ASSEMBLY AND EXPRESSION
Extensive discussion took place regarding the increasing restrictions on the freedom of association, assembly and expression in the continent. It was recognized that NGOs working in the area of sexual orientation and gender identity have found it difficult to register themselves, and that laws are used to effectively shut down NGO activities. Furthermore, peaceful assemblies are disrupted with disproportionate use of force and journalists are often targeted for their work.
The NGO Forum Special Interest Group in this regard made recommendations to the ACHPR to remind State Parties to respect international human rights standards, and that where national laws are not progressive, the Commission should continue to call on the government to amend these laws to make space for civil liberties.
FORUM OUTLINES CONTINUING CHALLENGES FOR LGBTI POPULATIONS
The relevant Special Interest Group outlined continuing challenges for LGBTI persons in the continent, and also pointed to certain positive developments. For instance, some progress had been made in Kenya where the Medical Practitioners Board allowed for gender reassignment surgeries, and the allowance for a change of names in exam certificates.
While no resolution had been adopted at this NGO Forum, the Special Interest group noted as a matter of priority the need for effective follow up on resolution 273 on ‘Protection against violence and other human rights violations against persons on the basis of their real or imputed Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity’. In this line, they called on the NGO Forum to encourage the ACHPR to accept the application of the Coalition of African Lesbians for observer status to the ACHPR.
WOMEN'S RIGHTS ADDRESSED
Attention was given to an initiative to develop a General Comment to Article 7 (d) of the Maputo Protocol. The Protocol provides that ‘States shall enact appropriate legislation to ensure that women and men enjoy the same rights in case of separation, divorce or annulment of marriage’. The draft General Comments deal specifically with the notion of ‘equitable sharing’ and provides specific guidance to States Parties in this regard.
There were also provisions in the resolutions the NGO Forum adopted on peace and security as well as human rights and counter-terrorism on the specific challenges and threats faced by women, especially women human rights defenders, in these areas.
COMING UP AT THE ACHPR SESSION
The 56th ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights will commence on 21 April 2015. During this time, two key reports of the Commission will be officially launched.
The report on the situation of women human rights defenders in Africa will be launched on 23 April 2015. ISHR worked with a group of women human rights defenders and non-governmental organisations to support and provide inputs to the content of the report, in close collaboration with the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders. The report compiles information received from civil society in Africa, national human rights institutions and States as well as human rights experts.
A report on the right to freedom of association and assembly will also be launched during the session (date to be confirmed). ISHR formed part of the study group that worked with the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders to draft the report.
A number of periodic reports of States Parties will also be presented this session. In particular, ISHR has made civil society submissions examining the situation of human rights defenders and civil society space for the reviews of Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Uganda.
Alongside this session ISHR is organising a meeting between the ACHPR Working Group on Extractive Industries, the Environment, and Violations of Human Rights in Africa and human rights defenders working on business and human rights, to allow defenders working in this area to explain the difficulties they face and their protection needs.