Congo (Kinshasa), Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Mali, Sierra Leone

ACHPR63 | 20 years after the adoption of the UN Declaration on defenders, where are we?

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This year, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on human rights defenders calls on us to assess what has been done since then and to reflect on what can be done for the next 20 years in Africa. 

On 25 October 2018, ISHR organised a side event during the 63rd session of the African Commission. The side event was an opportunity to hear testimonies about what has been done in specific countries in Africa since the adoption of the declaration, but most of all, what remains to be done in order to guarantee the protection of human rights defenders on the continent.

Marthe Coulibaly, Coordinator of the Ivorian Coalition of Human Rights Defenders, presented the case of Côte d’Ivoire which adopted a national defenders’ law in 2014. Even though the country is seen as an example to follow in the region, some challenges remain. Coulibaly emphasised the difficulties the coalition faces for the establishment of a protection mechanism tasked to ensure the implementation of the law.

‘The national human rights commission is currently being reformed in order to fully comply with the Paris Principles. Since it has been nominated as the host institution for the protection mechanism, until it is complete the mechanism can’t be operational’ said Coulibaly.

Other countries which started the process of adopting a human rights defenders protection law were highlighted during the event. Alphonsus Gbanie, Executive Secretary of the Human Rights Defenders Network in Sierra Leone explained the complex situation they are facing in the country. The recent election generated changes in the government which delayed the whole process. He also emphasised the need for the law to be reviewed and make sure that it includes protection guaranteed by the UN Declaration on defenders.  

The recent adoption of the law in Mali was also discussed. Djingarey Maiga from Women and Human Rights in Mali put the focus on the specific protection of women human rights defenders and the absolute need for it to be included in such laws. 

‘It is better not to have a law on human rights defenders in the Democratic Republic of Congo than to have a restrictive one’ mentioned Ella Mindja about the draft law being currently reviewed by the Congolese Parliament. Indeed, this law includes damaging provisions which would only end in more constraints for defenders. 

The African Commission’s Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders discussed his role in the process within these countries. He was able to meet with civil society in several countries in Africa and support their initiatives. He ensured that he will ‘keep meeting with governments throughout Africa to make sure they take into account the UN Declaration on defenders when drafting and adopting such laws. Only then will we be able to make Africa a safer continent for defenders to work in’.  

Finally, while recognising that the adoption of laws protecting defenders is of the utmost importance, ISHR Africa Advocacy Consultant Adélaïde Etong Kame concluded that ‘the adoption of a national law is only one step, out of many, to ensure that defenders are protected in Africa.’

Contact: Adélaïde Etong Kame, Africa Advocacy Consultant, [email protected]


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