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ACHPR 69: the situation of human rights defenders in exile in Africa

Concerned about the increase in the number of human rights defenders in exile in Africa, during its 27th Extraordinary session, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (‘the African Commission’) adopted resolution 439 mandating the African Commission to publish a report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in Exile in Africa.

On 18 November 2021 the African Commission held a panel on the situation of African defenders in exile on the continent. The panel was moderated by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders and benefited from input from a range of panellists. One of the main objectives of the panel was to present the draft report in order to gather contributions from various stakeholders.

“Perceived as troublemakers and as being against the development of their countries, for defenders exile often presents itself as the only option to remain safe,” said Remy Ngoy Lumbu, Chairperson of the African Commission and Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders.

While presenting the draft report, Arnold Tsunga, Director of the National Democratic Institute Zimbabwe, highlighted the resilience of defenders and the economic, political and psychological challenges they face in exile. He also shared some thoughts to reflect on a comprehensive protection mechanism for defenders in exile. The report analyses and shares findings on the following points:

  • The threats faced by defenders forcing them into exile;
  • Reports from defenders that exile has not silenced, and who continue their work from afar;
  • Exile doesn’t mean more or guaranteed security;
  • While the AU imposes a duty of integration of people in exile, exiled defenders often face greater economic and political challenges in their host countries;
  • Deep impact on the mental health of defenders and their family members.

Honourable Commissioner Maya Fadel, Vice Chairperson and Special Rapporteur on Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Internally Displaced Persons and Migrants in Africa ended by emphasising that defenders need to be linked to the existing categories of refugees and exiles to ensure they are taken cared of by the host country.

The study will soon be published on the website of the African Commission once all contributions collected during the panel are incorporated in the document.

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