#ACHPR59 | African NGOs align agenda with African Union’s focus on the rights of women


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Twice a year, members of African civil society gather in preparation for the session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The latest NGO Forum wrapped up this week in Banjul, the Gambia, after 3 days of intense and forward-looking exchanges. Here's our summary.

The NGO Forum preceding the 59th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights took place from 17 to 19 October and gathered hundreds of participants from African as well as international NGOs, members of the African Commission and the African Union, the media and other stakeholders.

The main objective of the Forum is to provide space for NGOs to discuss the human rights situation on the continent, set up common advocacy strategies to ensure their voice and priorities  are heard and heeded at the African Commission’s session.

The participants agreed to aligned the Forum's activities and agenda to the theme of the African Union's 'Year on Human Rights with a particular focus on the rights of women'.

As a member of its steering committee, ISHR's Africa advocacy director Clément Voule was honoured to give a keynote speech at the NGO Forum’s opening ceremony. He warned against the human rights crises currently arising in the course of and wake of electoral processes in several African countries such as Gabon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.)

Opening the NGO Forum, Commissioner James King representing the chair of the African Commission highlighted the critical role the NGO forum played in the work of the African commission. She reminded the participants that this session is focused on the African Union's 'year of human rights with particular focus on women’s rights' and invited them to reflect on this year and make recommendations to the African Commission.

In total nine panels were organised including the panel on the Model law on the protection of human rights defenders facilitated by ISHR.

Model Law

Mr Voule introduced the Model Law, explained the process of its development and how human rights defenders (HRDs), governments and other stakeholders could use it.

ISHR invited HRDs from Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Niger to share their experiences and lessons learnt from the on-going drafting processes of national laws that promote and protect human rights defenders. 

Ms Pedan Marthe Coulibaly from Côte d’Ivoire, the first African country to adopt a national law on HRDs, highlighted the ongoing work of the Ivorian HRD coalition with the support of ISHR to secure the implementation decree which should put in place the protection mechanism. She stressed the need for awareness raising about the law as she said authorities from the country’s inner regions are not all aware of this law and therefore keep on targeting human rights defenders.

‘We continue to lobby the government and urge them to adopt an implementation decree that will operationalize the law,’ said Ms Coulibaly. 

While Mr Abdoulaye Kanni reminded the forum that Niger’s Minister of Justice had publicly committed to supporting such a law (currently being fleshed out by civil society), Ms Florence Ouattara deplored the repeated delays in the adoption of Burkina HRD law where the process has been underway since 2014. Ms Ouattara called the authorities to take civil society's amendments into account in the final draft to be sent to the parliament submitted last July.

‘The draft law currently with the Council of Ministers does not take into account the needs of women HRDs and in its current form actually makes the work of defenders more challenging and restrictive,’ said Ms Ouattara expressing concern about the Burkina Faso process.

The International Commission of Jurists and ISHR will be launching the Model Law at a side event during the 59th African Commission ordinary session, at the Kairaba Beach Hotel on the 24th of October. 

Civil society space

ISHR also participated in a panel on the promotion and protection of civil society participation in Africa where Mr Voule discussed the Martin Ennals Awards for the recognition of defenders, a prize usually overlooked by African defenders. He invited participants to disseminate the information on the Award and to nominate more defenders from Africa. He recalled that applications close on 9 November.

Working groups and outcomes

Working groups discussed a number of issues including access to information and the extractives industry.

Access to information is enshrined in most African states' constitutions, yet journalists struggle to get the required information to do their work. In the Gambia journalists are intimidated, arbitrarily detained and arrested without proper access to justice.

The NGOs agreed that they needed to work closely with states to develop laws on access to information. The NGO Forum will call on the Commission to issue a resolution asking member states to remove and repel laws that restrict internet freedoms and those that hinder physical freedom of expression and access to information.

Women artisanal miners face sexual violence from male counterparts and from law enforcement agents. The African Mining Vision does not adequately address the challenges and threats that women face in the sector. Corruption, lack of transparency and accountability continue to be a problem in Africa, for example the missing US$15 billion that was accrued from Zimbabwe’s diamond sector. 

NGOs raised concerns that the Working Group on Extractives has not been functional due to lack of funding and change of leadership. States were called to amend their laws and ensure that they protect defenders, women and children. NGOs also encouraged more constructive dialogue between CSOs, states and mining companies. 

Resolutions adopted by the NGO Forum

A number of resolutions agreed on during the Forum will now be presented at the African Commission. For example, the NGO Forum adopted a regional resolution on the status of human rights in Southern Africa and it called for the re-establishment of the SADC tribunal while highlighting the human rights challenges in the region. Country specific resolutions on Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Gabon, Gambia, Sudan, South Sudan and Cameroon were also adopted given the urgency and intensity of the human rights violations unfolding in those countries.

Lastly, a Communiqué was adopted to better express the concerns, challenges and opportunities of promoting human rights, in particular women’s rights in Africa.

For more information, please contact:
Mr Clément Voule, ISHR Africa Advocacy Director, at c.voule@ishr.ch


  • Africa
  • Freedom of expression, association and assembly
  • Human rights defenders
  • NGOs
  • Reprisals and intimidation
  • African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights
  • Burundi
  • Congo (Kinshasa)
  • Eritrea
  • Ethiopia
  • Gabon
  • Gambia
  • South Sudan
  • Sudan