Statement of Madam Reine Alapini-Gansou, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa






Human Rights Defenders convened with African Commission Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa to discuss the 10 years achievements and challenges. Parallel to this meeting Defenders discussed the significance of Africa Human Rights Day as this day is commemorated continentally.

This meeting offers the opportunity to reflect on the progress made since 52 years ago when the Organisation of African Unity, the predecessor of African Union was established. This was done with the aim of ending colonialism, to restore peace and stability, among others and to promote and protect human rights through implementation of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

 The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, an organ of the AU with a broad human rights mandate in Africa has made inroads in defending the rights of all people in Africa with a range of Special Mandate Holders created and developing procedures to increase realisation of human rights and accountability in Africa. This would not have been possible without the cooperation of human rights defenders and NGOs who contribute positively to the advancement of the African human rights system. Although systematic reprisals still prevail in Africa limiting human rights defenders to carry out their work, the adoption by the African Commission of Resolutions 196[1] & 273[2] on Reprisals against anyone who cooperate with the African human rights system, in particular, the African Commission is an important recognition of the role played by human rights defenders in promoting and protecting human rights on the continent. 

These two resolutions aim to improve practices and conducts of state parties vis a vis human rights defenders. As they continue to function in volatile environments their operations and officers continue to suffer from harassments, premises clamped down and face arbitrary arrests and detentions, while allegations of forced disappearances, summary and extra judicial executions remain reported in great numbers.

The Study Group on Freedom of Association and Assembly established by the African Commission to support the Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders is another stepping stone which highlights the status of freedom of association and Assembly in Africa and elaborates critical recommendations that state parties need to implement.

These are critical to the promotion of legislation to give effect to the setting up of associations, organising and participation in peaceful demonstrations in Africa. The report of this Study Group was launched at the 56th Ordinary Session of the ACHPR and it is now accessible online. Over and above these achievements, is the report of violations of the situation of Women Human Rights Defenders in Africa, which was also adopted at the past session of the ACHPR. The working environments as well as national laws impacting negatively on the work of women human rights defenders in Africa have been highlighted. These also include laws, patriarchal conducts, cultural practices and stereotypes which deny women human rights defender the full enjoyment of their rights.

The report also depicts sexual violence, murder faced by women human rights defenders who defend sexual orientation and gender identity in Africa, which is still perceived as a Eurocentric norm and derogation of the African morals.

This report resonates with the AU theme for the Year 2015 which is devoted to Empowerment of Women and Agenda 2063.  This year also marks the end of Millennium Development Goals and the beginning of Sustainable Development Goals.

The African Commission has made great strides in passing Resolution 275[3] on the Protection against Violence and other Human Rights Violations against Persons on the basis of their real or imputed Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity. This resolution receives impact as Observer Status was granted to NGO defending Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity during the 56th Session of the ACHPR.  

The ACHPR continue to reach all people in the continent whose human rights are violated in many parts of the continent. The Commission condemned the xenophobic attacks in South Africa targeting migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, through adoption of Resolution 304[4]. Consequently, the Government of South Africa was specifically reminded of Resolution 131[5] passed by the Commission in 2008 which condemned the murder of 60 migrants in the country xenophobic attacks, and urged to protect the lives, properties of migrants, including prosecuting the perpetrators of these acts and to take immediate steps to sign, ratify and domesticate the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa.

The Special Rapporteur is now calling human rights defenders to promote this resolution and monitor its implementation. The timing of this resolution coincides with the 25thSummit of the AU Governments and Heads of States which South Africa is hosting and obliged to comply with AU human rights obligations to ensure all immigrants are protected in accordance with the applicable international and regional human rights instruments.

The provision of the Charter empowers the African Commission under Article 45 to conduct its promotional function, through research studies, coordination of colloquiums, seminars in Africa. However this can be achieved with cooperation of state parties as well as making it possible for human defenders to fully participate.    

The Special Rapporteur would like to recall the Resolution 69[6] on the protection of Human Rights Defenders in Africa.

Finally, the Mechanism and its partners will continue to develop actions and to stand firmly to make Africa, a land of hope, a continent where peoples enjoy their human rights as guaranteed under African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Done in Cotonou, during the Strategic meeting held by the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa from 25 to 28 May 2015(Participants: HURISA, ISHR, CIDDH, ABDD, ROADDH)