ACHPR63 | Outcome of the NGO Forum

24.10.2018

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This year’s 37th session of the NGO Forum was marked by the celebrations of the 70 years of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the 20 years of the UN Declaration on human rights defenders and the commemoration of 2018 African human rights day.

The situation of human rights in Africa

In the opening presentation made on the situation of human rights in Africa, panellists painted a very alarming image of the situation on the continent. Indeed, among other things, States continue to shrink civic space, defenders are being threatened and their offices monitored by intelligence services. Freedom of assembly and association is still largely repressed. In Burundi, the government recently suspended all international NGOs, requiring them to sign four documents including one imposing on them ethnic quotas and severe financial rules. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), on 18 October several participants were arrested while peacefully protesting for a better access to water. Similarly, in Togo, on 20 August protesters were sprayed with tear gas for denouncing the high cost of living. Along with Egypt, Eritrea and Djibouti remain two of the most restrictive countries in Africa, where defenders continue to suffer reprisals for cooperating with UN mechanisms. In Egypt, the abuse of the anti-terrorism law to displace and detain human rights defenders opposed to the government is very alarming.   

The 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the state of the promotion, protection and fulfilment of human and peoples’ rights in Africa

Why do we still witness gross human rights violation in Africa, 70 years after the adoption of the most significant human rights instrument?

This celebration was the opportunity to discuss the success, failures and emerging challenges of our time. It was also the ideal space to plan and strategise about how to further the implementation of the Universal Declaration for the years to come. Chair H.E Soyata Maiga highlighted the need to reengage, review our strategies and our projects to identify why there are so many shortcomings. Indeed, all African countries refer to this instrument in their legislation but little is done to action its content and fully guarantee the rights included in it.  

20th anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders

This year is an important year for all defenders in Africa. It is a year to celebrate their bravery and willingness to always raise their voices for a better protection of human rights even when theirs are violated.  

A panel presented the evolution of the protection of defenders since the adoption of the declaration, also emphasising the challenges they still face in their work. Indeed, States are painting a damaging image of defenders all around Africa. This celebration is a reminder of all the work defenders accomplish and the need to recognise it instead of repressing it.

Questions were raised, especially how to guarantee that defenders are protected for their work as actors of democracy.

The Commemoration of the 2018 African Human Rights Day

This year, for the Commemoration of the African Human Rights Day, the African Commission joined civil society to celebrate this day within the NGO Forum. By celebrating it within this specific space for civil society, the Commission wanted to ensure that civil society, as a major actor in the promotion and protection of human rights, was included and recognised.

This year’s theme was ‘fighting corruption and advancing human rights: Our collective responsibility’. Corruption has a harmful impact on development and democracy. It affects the rights of citizens at different levels especially when it occurs when dealing with extractive industries or in relation to access to justice. When the government accepts bribes to let a company extract minerals on a land without any consideration of the population affected, it clearly undermines the rights of its citizen. This is why this celebration was important for civil society actors present at the Forum: the role they play in holding the government to account when it engages in corruption is paramount. However, to be able to take action, it is important that States ensure an enabling environment for defenders and their work. Africa is still largely and deeply affected by the practice of corruption and a lot remains to be done to eradicate this "disease".     

Interest Groups

Participants joined small interests group in order to reflect more in-depth on the impact of corruption on certain specific human rights issues such as the protection of defenders, extractive industries, the environment and human rights violations, sexual orientation and gender identity or freedom of expression.

Recommendations to be submitted to the African Commission for consideration came out of these discussions, among them were the following:

  • Participate in the formulation of a common African position on the Binding treaty holding transnational corporations and other business entities accountable for human rights violations;
  • Develop laws and policies for the recognition of traditional and ancestral lands and sites, as well as for the customary governance which protects them (implement a model law following resolution 372 (LX) 2007);
  • Elaborate and adopt laws recognising and protecting human rights defenders.

Resolutions adopted to be submitted to the African Commission for consideration:

Thematic resolutions:

  • Resolution on freedom of expression and access to information
  • Resolution on the abolition of the death penalty in Africa: Women in prison and in particular women sentenced to death
  • Resolution on the situation of women human rights defenders in Central Africa

Country resolutions:

  • Resolution on the human rights situation in Somalia
  • Resolution on the human rights situation in Burundi
  • Resolution on the excessive violations of fundamental freedoms in Cameroon and in Gabon during the electoral period
  • Resolution on the Republic Democratic of Congo

These three days bringing together defenders from all over Africa were a reflection of the engagement, solidarity and dedication of civil society on the continent. 

Contact: Adélaïde Etong Kame, Africa Advocacy Consultant,a.etong@ishr.ch

Photo: John Gbenagnon/ACDHRS

Category:

Region
  • Africa
Topic
  • Freedom of expression, association and assembly
  • Human rights defenders
  • NGOs
Mechanism
  • African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights