30 November, 2021
Advocacy at the 69 Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
The Forum on the Participation of Non-Governmental Organisations at ACHPR69
AfricanDefenders and DefendDefenders virtually hosted the NGO forum preceding ACHPR69 in which we delivered the following statements:
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,
I would like first of all to congratulate Hon Solomon Ayele Derso, for his
re-election as Commissioner of the African Commission and thanking him
for joining us today! It is my great pleasure to speak today on behalf of the steering committee of the NGO forum.
In preparation for the 68th Ordinary Session of the African Commission
last April, we drew the attention of the African Commission to the rising
trends in conflicts, violence, and systematic restrictions on fundamental
freedoms on our continent.
We also predicted that extensions of presidential term limits, which
citizens across the continent have peacefully protested, are also
impediments to the safeguarding of sound checks and balances on
executive power and are reflective of the democratic backsliding.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today, the same cause always produces the same effect, and the
same effect never arises but from the same cause. The inaction of the
African Union when leaders refuse to relinquish power by amending the
constitution and obstruct democratic change is a contributing factor to
many coup d’état in Africa and human rights violations in Africa.
The illegitimate becomes legitimate, and this is the current situation in
Guinea, Chad, Sudan and Mali. This forum should formulate adequate
recommendation to unconstitutional behaviours especially when it comes
to amending constitutions for personal gains.
The last six months have seen increased repression, including in relation to armed conflict and independent monitoring and reporting on armed conflict, threatening to further restrict citizens’ exercise of their human rights and fundamental freedoms in the East and Horn of Africa sub-region.
The conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia has further destabilised an already fragile Horn of Africa, as Somalia is dealing with a 30-year armed conflict. Djibouti and Eritrea remain extremely closed and repressive, tolerating little to no dissent. Additionally, a military coup in Sudan threatens to erase the gains of the popular 2018-2019 revolution of the Sudanese people. Other countries in the sub-region have also registered downward trends with reports of harassment of human rights defenders (HRDs), including journalists and activists, curtailing of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, association, and peaceful assembly, leading to a further shrinking of the civic and democratic space. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, government authorities use excessive power under the guise of curbing it.
Advocacy at ACHPR69
During the session AfricanDefenders and DefendDefenders submitted the following oral statements:
DefendDefenders and AfricanDefenders welcome the report of the of Chairperson of the Working Group on the Rights of Older Persons and People with Disabilities in Africa. In this statement, we highlight the situation of persons with disabilities (PWDS) including human rights defenders (HRDs) with disabilities, following a research mission conducted in Ethiopia, Somalia, and South Sudan- all countries in conflict. PWDs including HRDs with disabilities living in conflict areas face overwhelming challenges. They face greater risks of being caught in fighting and have been left behind when communities flee attacks. Many have to rely on assistance to be able to flee conflict areas which is often unavailable. In Somalia, an HRD with disability noted cases where people with hearing impairments were shot by the military for failure to stop at a security check.
Women and girls with disabilities across the three countries are subjected two multiple discriminations. Women particularly with visual impairment and intellectual disability face an increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence. Additionally, women and girls struggle to access justice. Women who have been violated often don’t have the capacity to report and even those that report are not believed or their credibility is questioned.
AfricanDefenders and Defenddefenders welcome the report of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and Focal Point on Reprisals in Africa. We also welcome positive developments, in terms of policies, which have contributed to the creation of a positive working environment such as the signing of the 2021 Access to Information Bill in The Gambia and the drafting of a civil society law in Libya. We also recorded the release of 42 human rights defenders (HRDs) across Africa. However, we echo the concerns raised in the Special Rapporteur’s report about the challenges faced by HRDs. Despite the Commission passing Res. 475 (EXT.OS/XXXI) 2021 on the need to protect civic space and freedom of association and assembly during its 31st Extraordinary session, the working environment of HRDs in Africa has shown little to no improvement.
Despite numerous resolutions and guidance by this Commission, gender-based violence on our continent is on the rise. Women continue to suffer the consequences. WHRDs have reported an increasing number of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) cases, including harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriage, as a result of or in relation to school closures and other negative impacts related to measures adopted to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as sex trafficking and rape. WHRDs have also often been victims of SGBV as reprisal for their activism. More recently, there has been an increase in cases of online GBV against WHRDs who use social media platforms to amplify their online activism efforts. Egyptian journalist and human rights activist, Nawara Negm, has repeatedly been a victim of online smear campaigns, including gendered and sexualized threats. In order to protect herself and her family, she has withdrawn from the public.
2021 has been another grim year for environmental human rights defenders working across Africa. Their work is paramount to monitor, document, and report on business-related human rights and environmental abuses and to seek justice and redress for the communities affected. Yet, all too often, their efforts are met with surveillance, intimidation, judicial harassment, arbitrary detentions, death threats and tragically sometimes, extrajudicial killings, like we have witnessed again recently.
We have documented cases of suppression of the right to free opinion and expression in our networks throughout the continent. These include, but are not limited to, internet shutdowns, blocking of social media platforms and other communication services, and attacks on journalists. We bring to your attention some of the recent cases. In South Sudan, Radio Jonglei was closed last August, and three staff members were arrested. This action is contrary to Article 9 of the ACHPR and Article 19 of the UDHR and ICCPR on the Right to receive information and free expression. The 2021 state of internet freedom in Africa, a report by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) indicates that as African countries embrace digital technologies, there is growing concern that the rising state surveillance, which is partly being enabled by the same digital technologies, is undermining African citizens’ digital rights and hindering their willingness to meaningfully participate in democratic processes.