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NGO Forum: Civil society’s engagement with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

As we celebrate 40 years since the adoption of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which established the African Commission, the NGO Forum seized the opportunity to analyse the engagement of civil society with the Commission the past 40 years.

On 11 November 2021, the NGO Forum organised a panel on the Situation of civil society’s engagement with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. After 40 years of the African Charter, a number of questions remain and especially about the impact of the work of civil society with the African Commission.

“There are numerous conflicts currently ongoing on the continent, which often means a higher number of violations against women. It is critical for civil society to identify ways to engage with the African Commission as well as the African Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child” highlighted Judy Gitau from Equality Now.

Honourable Commissioner Remy Ngoy Lumbu, Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and Chair of the African Commission reflected on the negative impact the pandemic has had on the engagement of civil society while recognising the resilience and passion of civil society in Africa for the protection of human rights on the continent.  “While civil society’s contribution can sometimes be invisible to most, it is significant and important to raise awareness and promote the protection of human rights in Africa. To have an even greater impact, they must use all the tools available to them, in particular legal disputes in front of the Commission when possible” said Commissioner Ngoy Lumbu.

In addition, Tom Mulisa, Executive Director of Great Lakes Initiative for Human Rights shared the opportunities and the challenges civil society can face when trying to engage in the processes open to civil society within the African Commission, especially State reviews. “States are to be reviewed every two years by the African Commission. However, it often takes over two years for the Commission to adopt and share concluding observations to the concerned State, making it difficult for civil society to engage in implementation activities prior to the next review” said Mulisa. “Moreover, for many organisations especially those which do not necessarily have the opportunity to travel to Banjul, the opportunities surrounding the review of States still remain a mystery. There is a clear need for more clarity on the opportunities afforded to civil society prior, during and after the review of their country by the African Commission” he added.

Finally, Honourable Hermine Getsing Kembo, Special Rapporteur on Child Marriage and Harmful Social Practices of the African Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child shared updates on the Committee’s efforts to combat FGM and how civil society can support this work, especially through advocacy for structural and cultural changes in their country.

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