African States: Implement ACHPR report to protect rights to freedom of assembly and association


African States should review and amend laws and policies which restrict the rights to freedom of association and assembly contrary to international law and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, according to a major new report launched at the 56th session of the African Commission today.

French version of this article can be found here

(Banjul, The Gambia) - African States should review and amend laws which restrict the rights to freedom of association and assembly contrary to international human rights law and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, ISHR said today.

The call came as the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) launched a timely and important report assessing the current state of the freedoms of association and assembly in law and practice in Africa at its 56th session. ISHR contributed substantially to the development of the report.

The report, adopted at the 55th ACHPR session, is the product of a four-year process that began with the establishment of a Study Group on Freedom of Association in Africa. In 2011, resolution 186 mandated ISHR and seven key partners, under the supervision of Commissioner Reine Alapini Gansou, ACHPR Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa, to prepare ‘a study on the laws governing freedom of association and practices that violate freedom of association in Africa.’

On 18 April 2015, a panel was held at the NGO Forum that ordinarily precedes ACHPR regular sessions, to review this process and prepare for the report launch. Commissioner Alapini Gansou explained that the report had been prepared in an alarming context of increasing and systemic clamp-downs on civil society space in Africa. Panellists Clément Voulé (ISHR) and Emerson Sykes (ICNL) provided the forum with updates on behalf of the Study Group on the scope and contents of the report. They detailed wide input received from the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network, various sub-regional human rights defenders networks and coalitions, and national human rights institutions and States.

‘This report could not be launched at a more critical time for assembly and association freedoms in Africa,’ said Clément Voulé of ISHR, going on to highlight some of the report’s critical recommendations.

‘This report shows how crucial it is that State laws and policies that unnecessarily or unreasonably restrict sources of foreign funding to African NGOs be amended or repealed. For many NGOs, such funding is critical to keeping their doors open,’ Mr Voulé said.

Mr Voulé also reiterated the report’s call for States to refrain from excessive use of force to disperse public gatherings. ‘Police and military activities during public demonstrations cannot go unchecked,’ he said. ‘They must comply fully with the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.’

Commissioner Alapini Gansou looked to important next steps. ‘This is a robust and well-substantiated report for which the Study Group members are to be highly commended. But we must not stop here,’ she said. ‘I will now work closely with the Study Group to develop Guiding Principles that will create a framework to assist African States put the recommendations of this report into action.’

At the NGO Forum, Ms Alapini Gansou extended an open invitation to civil society groups to take part in the process. ‘The Guiding Principles will assist African States to better protect the right to freedom of association and assembly across the continent. As the primary beneficiaries of these protections, civil society groups are invited to provide their views and suggestions to formulate these important guidelines.’

The report is available in English and French.


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