From 20 to 23 April 2009 at the Johannesburg + 10: All Africa Human Rights Defenders Conference Conference report: English | French) 88 HRDs from Africa, and 33 international partners, gathered in Kampala, Uganda with the objective to take stock of the achievements made in the protection of human rights defenders since the first ‘All Africa Human Rights Defenders Conference’ held in Johannesburg in 1998, and to jointly devise strategies to respond to new and persisting challenges in order to effectively improve HRDs’ protection and capacity to work.
One of the main goals of the Jo’burg +10 Conference was to understand the challenges faced by HRDs at a regional and sub-regional level by engaging conference participants in significant discussions with an emphasis on exchanging information in order to identify best practices for the protection of human rights defenders and encourage replication of these practices across the continent for increased impact.
Together with representatives from the United Nations, the African Commission and the European Union, namely Margaret Sekaggya, UN Special Rapporteur on HRDs, Mme Reine Alapini-Gansou, ACHPR’s Special Rapporteur on HRDs and Georg Klussmann from the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, participants, through a range of interactive sessions, also evaluated the effectiveness of the various protection mechanisms currently in place at the UN, ACHPR and EU levels and discussed measures to strengthen them.
In these discussions, participants paid particular attention to the challenges facing women human rights defenders, journalists, sexual minority defenders, defenders working in situations of armed conflict, defenders working under legal repression and those working under political repression.
HRD networks were time and again identified as a very powerful and positive tool for enhancing the rights of HRDs and creating a more enabling environment for HRDs to pursue their legitimate work. The attendance of coordinators and members of existing sub-regional networks from West Africa, Central Africa and the East and Horn of Africa allowed for a first-hand sharing of lessons learnt and provided further stimulus for ongoing initiatives in Northern and Southern Africa to create similar networks in these regions.
Existing sub-regional networks were described as having been influential in helping to promote the very notion of HRDs and their rights amongst HRDs themselves, as well as amongst decision-makers and the wider public; in enhancing exchange of information relevant to the protection of HRDs which has in turn contributed to the enhancement of advocacy efforts at a national, regional and international level notably by serving as channels through which this information is being provided to relevant stakeholders in a timely manner, information which at times national HRDs are not able to provide for a variety of strategic and capacity reasons.
The establishment of coordinating organisation that could help to re-enforce and build on sub-regional efforts was seen as one of the key means through which to overcome many of the challenges and gaps in the protection mechanisms currently in place.
Joseph Bikanda with significant prior experience as legal advisor at the Secretariat of ACHPR and technical assistant to the Special Rapporteur on Human rights Defenders in Africa has been recruited as Coordinator of PAHRD-Net at the Secretariat of PAHRD-Net hosted by EHAHRP in Kampala, Uganda; and has engaged with the PAHRD-Net Steering Committee composed of representatives of five sub-regional network focal points, i.e. Cairo Institute for Human Rights for Northern Africa, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network, West Africa Human Rights Defenders Network, Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network (hosted by the International Commission of Jurists), and Central African Human Rights Defenders Network and four representatives of the vulnerable groups identified as groups of HRDs requiring specific protection.
Engagement with the sub-regional networks have begun, in particular with a planning meeting held to discuss the early 2012 launch of the Northern Africa HRDs Network hosted by the Cairo Institute of Human Rights. Efforts in the coming year will focus on advocacy at the AU and UN level; sharing of best practices between Sub-regional networks, creation of national coalitions of HRDs and; strategies and tactics to strengthen sub-regional of HRDs.