African Commission: Urge States to ensure safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders

29.04.2015

Ensuring a safe and enabling environment for civil society requires that States review and amend legislation which unduly restricts the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly and to enact specific laws to protect defenders, ISHR told the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights today. 

French version of this article can be found here

(Banjul, The Gambia) - Ensuring a safe and enabling environment for civil society requires that States review and amend legislation which unduly restricts the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly and to enact specific laws to protect human rights defenders, ISHR told the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights today. It also requires that States take special measures to protect vulnerable groups of defenders.

The statement, delivered in response to the report of the ACHPR Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, additionally called on the Commission to protect defenders from intimidation and reprisals in connection with their human rights advocacy and to press States to ensure that all alleged attacks against defenders are investigated fully and promptly, with perpetrators held to account.

'The work of human rights defenders is crucial to good government, sustainable and inclusive development, and respect for the rule of law,' said ISHR's Ben Leather from the 56th session of the Commission, which is meeting in Banjul.

'Not only do States have an obligation under both the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and international law to support and protect human rights defenders, it is also strongly in their national interest,' Mr Leather said.

'Allowing civil society to organise and speak freely does not mean that the government agrees with their proposals. It simply demonstrates that a country’s leaders are willing to listen, believe in freedom and are committed to allowing full citizen participation in the country’s development.'

'Despite this, there is a regrettable proliferation of laws across the continent which hinder the establishment of civil society organisations, such as in Sierra Leone or Uganda, or which unduly restrict free speech, such as in Angola and the Gambia. The use of national security laws to criminalise the legitimate work of human rights defenders, such as in Ethiopia and Kenya, is similarly concerning and counter-productive,' Mr Leather said.

In contrast to these negative trends, ISHR welcomed the enactment in Cote d'Ivoire of a specific law on the protection of human rights defenders and the public commitment to develop such laws made by States including Burkina Faso and Tunisia at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March. Sierra Leone's progressive access to information legislation was also welcomed, with ISHR emphasising however that such legislation must be fully implemented if it is to be effective.

ISHR's statement also highlighted the additional and specific risks facing particularly vulnerable groups of defenders, including corporate accountability activists, defenders working on LGBTI rights and women human rights defenders, calling on States 'to recognise – publically and explicitly – the legitimate and vital role of these groups of defenders, and to ensure that any laws passed or amended to protect defenders in general, respond to their protection needs'.

ISHR concluded by saying that laws and policies to protect defenders should be developed and implemented in close consultation with such defenders, emphasising that ISHR 'stands ready to advise and assist States in this respect'.

ISHR tweeted comprehensive coverage of the Special Rapporteur's report, as well as State, NHRI and civil society responses to it. This can be found at the @ISHRglobal Twitter account under the hashtag #ACHPR56.

Contact: Ben Leather, Advocacy and Communications Manager, ISHR, on b.leather@ishr.ch

Category:

Region
  • Africa
Topic
  • Freedom of expression, association and assembly
  • Human rights defenders
Mechanism
  • African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights
  • ACHPR Special Rapporteur on HRDs
  • National HRDs laws/policies
Country
  • Angola
  • Burkina Faso
  • Ethiopia
  • Gambia
  • Ivory Coast
  • Kenya
  • Sierra Leone
  • Tunisia
  • Uganda