NGO Forum | Human rights defenders working on businesses face specific risks in Africa


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On 24 April, during the NGO Forum preceding the 62nd session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, ISHR in collaboration with Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) and the Pan African Network of Human Rights Defenders, organised a workshop on “The African Experience of attacks on defenders in the business and human rights field: tools of documentation and counter-action”.

This four hours workshop gathered 24 defenders working mainly on human rights issues related to the work of businesses all over Africa. The aim was to outline the attacks they face; to present tools created to prevent, address and remedy such attacks; to document relevant cases; and most importantly, to share experiences of countering attacks in order to deepen collaboration regionally and internationally.

At the start of the workshop, participants were asked to identify the economic sectors they considered to be the deadliest for human rights defenders in Africa. They almost unanimously identified the mining sector, followed by oil, gas and coal and thirdly agribusiness.

To respond to the need for more effective protection of defenders in the business and human rights field, the presentation then highlighted the tools created by the BHHRC. These tools have been designed for civil society organisations and defenders to document and resist attacks: they include a database of attacks and a documentation checklist used to fill out the database. The presentation emphasised that judicial harassment of defenders in Africa was higher than the average. It also underlined positive attempts by some businesses, investors and industry associations to take action in defence of defenders, such as the recent statements by the International Council on Mining and Metals and the Investor Alliance for Human Rights.

The participants were then given the opportunity to put the database to use. Each of them filled out the checklists regarding specific cases which happened in their respective country. They then gathered in groups, by sub-regions, to do a quick count of the data on types of attack, perpetrators and business sectors. Gender dimension of the attacks and prior contact with companies or lack thereof were also taken into account. Following this exercise, the rapporteur of each group presented the findings. This allowed all participants to get an overview of the specificities of each sub-region when it comes to attacks against human rights defenders in the area of business and human rights. In the final part of the session, each participant noted down one key take-away from the discussion.

Following the workshop, a virtual coordination group was established for participants to keep jointly documenting cases of attacks, sharing experiences and devise joint actions.

Photo: DefendDefenders


  • Africa
  • Corporate accountability
  • Human rights defenders
  • NGOs
  • Reprisals and intimidation
  • Women's rights and WHRD
  • African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights