Kumulika is a newsletter produced by ISHR with the aim of monitoring and informing readers of developments and opportunities around the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR).
COMMISSION ALERT! PREVIEWING THE 57TH SESSION OF THE AFRICAN COMMISSION FOR HUMAN AND PEOPLES' RIGHTS
The 57th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (the Commission) is being held in Banjul, The Gambia from 4 to 11 and 18 November 2015. The Commission was preceded by the NGO Forum and the 31st African Human Rights Book Fair, which took place from 31 October to 2 November.
The major topics of the session will include women human rights defenders, reprisals, human rights and extractive industries... more
KEY ACTIVITIES AT THe ngo forum
ABOUT THE NGO FORUM
During the NGO Forum that preceded the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, civil society organisations from across Africa discussed a new policy against intimidation and reprisals developed by the Commission’s expert on human rights defenders... more
Expert panel recommends continental study on defenders and the extractive industry
On the margins of the 57th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (the African Commission), a panel of Experts of the African Commission and human rights defenders recommended a comprehensive research to document the challenges, threats and attacks faced by human rights defenders working in the context of natural resource exploitation.
The panel was composed of Ms Reine Alapini-Gansou, the African Commission’s Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders; Mr Erick Kassango, an expert member of the African Commission’s Working Group on extractive industries, environment and human rights violations; Mr Pafing Giurki, a human rights defender (HRD) from Chad, member of the Monitoring Committee of the Government investment on oil revenue; and Ms Nora Bowier, a HRD from Liberia who works for the Sustainable Development Institute. Tafadzwa Kuvheya, an extractive policy officer from the International Alliance on Natural Resources in Africa (IANRA), South Africa also joined the panel. The panelists analysed the difficulties faced by defenders, the role of business in protecting them, and the next steps the African Commission and States need to take.
'The stories shared by the defenders on this panel show a need of further documentation of the pressure, intimidation and reprisals they experience in Africa. They are first and foremost calling on the Commission to demand policy change from States', said Michael Ineichen, ISHR's Corporate Accountability Programme Manager. 'But the call for action on States is clear: in the absence of protective policy and legislation, business and corrupt governmental elites will continue to ignore communities' concern and repress dissent', Mr Ineichen underlined.
‘Human rights defenders in Chad continuously experience pressure from Government officials and multi-national corporations to abandon their advocacy efforts in the country,’ said Mr Giurki. He explained that defenders have been arbitrarily arrested, threatened and lost their jobs in the extractive sector for expressing dissent. ‘These are the lengths the Government and companies go to, to silence us,’ said Mr Giurki.
Ms Bowier expressed concern that ‘the Government responds in a militaristic manner when civil society organisations protest against misconduct by multi-national corporations in Liberia.’ Recalling the traumatic experiences in Liberia, Ms Bowier stressed that the African Commission must urge States to stop militarising the extractive sector in the country and elsewhere on the continent. She added that as a woman human rights defender, the lack of protection when she wants to go in the field, poses a particular risk for women who want to advocate for justice in the extractive sector.
In exploring the role of business in speaking out in favour of defenders, panelists identified significant differences between the home countries of companies active in the extractive sector. 'While some countries are seeking to ensure their work has minimal impact on the livelihood of the population and are open to our input, others - particularly Chinese companies - clearly do not care about their human rights obligations', Mr Giurki said.
Lawyer and activist Mr Erick Kassango said there was little to no awareness of the legal instruments that civil society organisations and human rights defenders can turn to. ‘There needs to be more awareness especially at the community level with regards to the existing regional instruments and laws that protect and promote them,’ he said.
IANRA's policy officer Ms Kuvheya urged civil society and community-based organisations to push for legal reforms and compliance to ensure that big business respect human rights defenders' rights.
Mr Kassango called for free, prior and informed consent policies to be harmonised in Africa so as to adequately protect communities and defenders at an earlier stage of the extractive value-chain. The Working Group on extractive industries and human rights is currently in the process of drafting a document with guidelines in that regard.
Madame Commissioner Reine Alapini-Gansou expressed concern at the rapidly increasing cases of human rights violations in the extractive sector in Africa. She declared being 'working closely with the Working Group where necessary and (being) saddened by the lack of adequate protection and promotion of human rights defenders working in this area.’ Ending on an affirmative note she encouraged panelists and participants ‘to be more audacious and persistent until human rights defenders in the extractive sector get the attention and protection they deserve.’
HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER PROFILE
NORA BOWIER Human rights defender from Liberia
Ms Nora Bowier is the Programme Coordinator of Liberian Sustainable Development Institute. As she strongly believes that Liberian communities have the right to benefit from the country’s natural resource wealth, she is focused on community participation in decision-making processes... more
Resolution on the situation facing human rights defenders
Human rights defenders present at the NGO Forum deplored the continued harassment, intimidation and targeted arrests of defenders in their countries, and the increasing restrictions on their work. In particular, there were grave concerns about the killings of human rights defenders in Burundi, arbitrary arrests of land activists in Kenya and severe restrictions on, arrest of and reprisals against defenders in Angola.
Defenders explained that the challenges facing them take place in a context of suspicion from State authorities and outright stigmatisation by them and the media. For example, civil society is defamed as 'evil society', providing cover for attacks on defenders. NGOs that receive funds from foreign sources are often labelled as 'Western agents' and subjected to severe restrictions in their operations.
The NGO Forum therefore adopted a resolution requesting the African Commission to call on African governments to repeal laws that unreasonably restrict the work of civil society organisations, such as by placing limitations on their funding and areas of work, to drop politically motivated charges against all human rights defenders, to view NGOs and defenders as partners and not enemies, and to amend laws to enhance space for civil society.
Addressing laws that restrict civil society space in Africa
The NGO Forum held a ‘special interest groups’ discussion, as well as a panel discussion, on the restriction of civil society space. Participants called for the creation of an African movement to reverse the trend of increasingly restrictive laws, and the restrictive application of specific laws that undermine and shrink the space for civil society in Africa. Giving the example of deregistration of NGOs in Kenya, along with other severe restrictions on their work, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) identified the African Commission as a critical space for civil society to strategise and develop a more concerted response to the clampdown on civil society.
The issue of counter-terrorism as a key justification for restricting civil society was clearly confirmed as a trend in the continent. Focusing on a range of North African countries, a representative of the Danish Institute for Human Rights detailed how the overriding focus on 'physical security', taken by many governments in fighting terrorism, has allowed authorities to diminish the space for civil society and curtail freedom of association and assembly. He argued for a shift in the discourse towards addressing the root causes of extremism and terrorism, as a way of addressing the security concerns while safeguarding human rights protection.
The NGO Forum therefore adopted a resolution calling on the African Commission to formulate follow-up strategies for the implementation of previous resolutions on human rights defenders and freedom of association (such asACHPR/Res.119 (XXXXII) 07 and ACHPR/Res.196 (l) 11).
The African Commission was called to recommend that States under review either revise or develop sound NGO laws within their borders, similar to the resolution made during the 52nd session of the African Commission which called for Côte d'Ivoire to develop laws for the protection of human rights defenders.
Forum demands increased protection for Women Human Rights Defenders
The African Union has declared 2016 the 'Year of Human Rights,' with a special focus on women's rights. The NGO Forum focused significantly on the challenges and opportunities this presents for women human rights defenders (WHRDs), and saw a number of hard strategic discussions regarding national and regional entry points to adequately participate and commemorate the year of human rights.
In keeping with this focus, the Forum adopted a resolution on WHRDs requesting the African Commission take the following key steps:
Call on member States to sign, ratify and implement the Maputo Protocol also known as The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, which was adopted by the African Union in 2003.
Remind States to disseminate the report on the situation of WHRDs, which was adopted at the 56th session of the Commission in April 2015.
Challenge States to implement the recommendations from the report.
The African Union has scheduled to launch the theme in January 2016 during the Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Appointments and state reviews
The 57th ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights commenced on 4 November 2015.
During the opening ceremony two new Commissioners were sworn in. Dr Sayele from Somalia and Ms Jamesina King from Sierra Leone. Ms King was the first Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone from 2007-2009 and served in that capacity for two years.
A new Chairperson for the African Commission was appointed. The new Chair is Commissioner Faith Pansy Tlakula from South Africa. She is also the Chairperson for the Working Group on Specific Issues Related to the work of the African Commission. Commissioner Tlakula has a long history in the human rights sector and is the former Chair of the Independent Electoral Commission in South Africa.
At the 57th session, four State periodic reports have also been presented. ISHR has prepared briefing papers and delivered statements on the situation of human rights defenders and civil society space for the reviews of Sierra Leone, Burkuna Faso, Kenya and Algeria. Further reporting on the reviews of these States will be included in the next issue of Kumulika.