African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

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ACHPR77: A declaration to protect defenders in Africa

On 25th October, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (‘the African Commission’) held a panel to discuss the draft African Declaration on the promotion of the role of human rights defenders and their protection in Africa.

In 2019, the African Commission adopted a resolution entrusting the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and Focal Point on Reprisals in Africa with the task of drafting an African Declaration on the promotion of the role of human rights defenders and their protection in Africa. 

During the panel, the Special Rapporteur announced that the draft Declaration on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders in Africa is currently underway at the African Commission and that there will be an opportunity for consultation with all stakeholders, including civil society and States. The Declaration will aim to anchor in Africa the protection afforded by the UN Declaration on defenders. 

UN Special Rapporteur for freedom of association and assembly, Clément Voule, highlighted the opportunity that represents the adoption of an African Declaration on defenders in showing that defenders are protected and human rights are an integral part of development. 

“We can’t talk about promoting human rights without actively protecting human rights defenders” added the UN Special Rapporteur.

This African declaration should not be an opportunity to advocate for a restriction of the definition of defenders but rather to recognise that defenders are anyone working for the promotion of human rights, like any villagers fighting the pollution of their river against extractive industries. Additionally, this is an opportunity for Africa to demonstrate that human rights are protected and protecting these actors is part of African culture.

Over the years, it has been recognised that, while being a landmark advancement for the protection of defenders, gaps exist in the UN Declaration. Nevertheless, the panellists discussed whether an African Declaration would be an appropriate solution. 

“The African Declaration on defenders should raise the bar from the UN Declaration on defenders and address issues and trends that have arisen in the last few years. Especially those working on extractive industries, the environment, conflicts, post electoral environments,gender based violence, as well as issues such as accountability, impunity, vulnerable groups, new technologies, surveillance, digital and judicial repression, violations by non-state actors and reprisals” insisted Joseph Bikanda, coordinator of the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network.

The National Commission on Human Rights of Burkina Faso emphasised the important role that national human rights institutions can play in protecting defenders, and encourage them to do their utmost to ensure that the measures, when adopted, are implemented to ensure these actors can carry out their work in complete safety and continue to contribute to a better environment for all citizens.

To conclude, Jean Claude Sedia, first secretary of the Embassy of Cote d’Ivoire in Addis Ababa called for heads of States of countries with national legislations protecting defenders to ensure that the Declaration is accepted and adopted at the African Union as well as the African Commission. He also suggested that protecting those who defend human rights should be a theme of the African Union for one year. 

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