Model law | Enhancing legal protection of human rights defenders in Africa


Civil society, government representatives, parliamentarians and national human rights institutions from across Africa strategise to enhance legal protection of human rights defenders on the continent.  

On 12 and 13 April 2017, 45 representatives of civil society, national human rights institutions, parliaments and governments came together for a two-day consultation on the development and implementation of national laws for the protection of human rights defenders in Africa.

This seminar built on two significant developments in defender protection:

  1. The adoption of a law for the protection of human rights defenders in Cote d’Ivoire in 2014, and its Implementation Decree adopted in February 2017.

This was the first of its kind, and has since inspired other governments and civil society coalitions - including in Burkina Faso, Niger, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Uganda and Mali - to engage in processes for the development of such laws.

  1. The model law for the Recognition and Protection of Human Rights Defenders in June 2016.

The model law is intended to guide and assist States, civil society and national human rights institutions to ensure the full and effective implementation of the United Nations and African Commission Declarations on human rights defenders at the national level.

The representatives from 15 countries across all regions of Africa agreed legal recognition and protection of defenders is crucial to ensuring that they can work in a safe, supportive environment and be free from attacks, reprisals and unreasonable restrictions.

The seminar provided a platform for representatives from civil society, government, parliament and national human rights institutions from countries where defender laws are being developed - Sierra Leone, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Cote d’Ivoire - to share experiences and lessons learnt in the development of defender protection laws.

‘Strategies towards the effective development of national defender protection laws were developed,’ said ISHR's Advocacy Director and Programme Manager for Africa Clement Voule. ‘While it was acknowledged that strategies should be adapted to the particular context in a country, one view was clear: all stakeholders need to be involved in the entire process from the earliest stage,’ Mr Voule added.  

This seminar was the first time representatives from civil society and national human rights institutions, as well as governments and parliamentarians from various African countries came together. The UN and African Commission Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders also participated in the seminar.

‘We welcome the commitment made by the two Special Rapporteurs to support national processes for the development of defender protection laws,’ said Mr Voule. 'This seminar enabled experiences and strategies to be shared across the region. The support of the Special Rapporteurs is integral to the effective development and implementation of those laws,’ added Mr Voule.

A link to the outcome Communiqué of the seminar can be accessed in English here and in French here

Watch interviews of participants from each region of Africa here:

  • Roselyn Hanzi, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

  • Frances Piagie Alghali, Human Rights Defenders Network Sierra Leone

  • Bassem Trifi, Ligue Tunisienne des Droits de l’Homme

  • Faridah Kyomuhangi, The Human Rights Center, Uganda

Listen to an interview of Marthe Pedan Coulibaly, national coordinator of the Coalition Ivoirienne des Défenseurs des Droits Humains, speaking on the Ivorian defender protection law. 


  • Africa
  • Freedom of expression, association and assembly
  • Human rights defenders
  • Burkina Faso
  • Ivory Coast
  • Mali
  • Niger
  • Sierra Leone