ACHPR65: Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and focal point on reprisals in Africa 

Item 8: Activity report of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and focal point on reprisals in Africa 

Honourable Chairperson, distinguished Commissioners, State delegates, representatives of National Human Rights Institutions and non-governmental organisations,

DefendDefenders (The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project) and AfricanDefenders welcome the opportunity to draw your attention to the plight of human rights defenders (HRDs) on the continent, with a focus on defenders in Cameron, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Human rights defenders play a crucial role towards building just and inclusive societies and should be protected rather than harassed.

In Malawi, threats, judicial harassment, intimidation and attacks against HRDs at the hands of authorities and cadres of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) are on the rise. Members of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition of Malawi have been particularly targeted. Gift Trapence, Vice-Chairperson and McDonald Sembereka were arrested on false allegations of operating an illegal organisation. Timothy Mtambo, Chairperson, survived a petrol bombing against his house in August 2019, and a recent assassination attempt. Investigations into the crimes remain inconclusive and no perpetrators have been brought to book.

In Zimbabwe, since the January 2019 protests, the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly is increasingly under attack. Police have violently repressed peaceful protests, with the use of live ammunitions, and arbitrarily arrested anyone suspected to be linked to mobilisation of the protests. The tense political environment and a climate of fear has forced a growing number of Zimbabwean HRDs to seek temporary refuge outside the country.

As the crises in Cameroon’s Anglophone and Northern regions remain unresolved, a growing number of Cameroonian HRDs find themselves operating in a context of armed conflict, becoming internally displaced or being forced to leave the country. They, and in particular women HRDs (WHRDs) face intersecting threats and risks as they endeavour to defend the rights of civilians and, indeed, every person irrespective of their affiliation.

We urge African Union member states to:

  • Adopt specific legislative measures to recognise the status of HRDs, accord them the necessary protection, and provide a conducive working environment as per resolution 376 (LX) 2017 adopted during the 60th ordinary session in Niamey, Niger; and
  • Cease the harassment of HRDs and adhere to their commitments to protect, respect and fulfil the fundamental human rights and freedoms guaranteed by the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.