On 15 June 2022, the National Assembly of Niger passed a law on the rights and duties of human rights defenders. This makes Niger the fourth African country to adopt such a law. However, for the law to produce the desired effects, it must be widely known and understood by all stakeholders. The establishment of an independent and inclusive protection mechanism will ensure the full implementation of the law.
During those two days, the NGO Forum welcomed over 260 participants coming from 40 African countries, as well as participants from Europe and North America.
Celebrating 35 years of the African Charter and the situation of human rights in Africa
Throughout the session, the NGO Forum reflected on the advancement of human rights in Africa since the adoption of the African Charter 35 years ago. Indeed, in East Africa, over the past six months, there have been reports of undue restrictions of civic space in several countries, and conflicts and authoritarianism remain key drivers of the shrinking of civic space.
For example, in Ethiopia, the agreed-upon ceasefire failed to hold, further undermining the country’s stability. In addition, defenders working on sexual orientation and gender identity have come under attack in Tanzania and Uganda. In North Africa, in countries like Algeria where freedom of association and assembly is constitutionally guaranteed and requires only notice to the authorities for the organisation of protests, peaceful protests keep being shut down by the authorities, who claim security concerns. In West Africa, following new regulations, registered civil society organisations in Benin have to renew their registration and pay an important fee, possibly restricting small NGOs with limited financial resources and giving the State discretionary power to withdraw the registration of organisations vocal against the government. In Ghana, the introduction of an anti-LGBTI law, in addition to undermining the rights of LGBTI people, restricts civic space to advocate for the protection of their rights. In Southern Africa, Adriano Nuvunga from Mozambique recently received two bullets in front of his house in Maputo. This threat on his life comes at a time when he has been critical of the manner in which the government is responding to the ongoing social unrest in the country, as a result of the worsening economic situation in Mozambique. In central Africa challenges linked to presidential elections and the degrading security situation greatly affected the human rights situation. It’s the case in Chad where the country is still dealing with the aftermath of the coup or in Cameroon where the situation in the far north, the north and south west remain concerning.
Land rights and the fight against climate change in Africa
During this session of the NGO Forum and ahead of COP27, several panels focusing on the fight against climate change and land rights were organised, discussing the impact of climate change and energy crises on food security and thus human rights in Africa.
Edward Porokwa, Executive Director of the Pastoralists Indigenous NGOs Forum in Tanzania highlighted that land is one of the main points of contention for human rights in Africa with some laws dating back to colonial times. Indeed, twenty four Tanzanian community leaders part of Masai groups are in prison on dubious murder charges and are yet to be freed because of business interests in the region. The issue of natural resource conservation has been used to deprive people of their land. “We are all advocating for conservation, but the present effort is coming as part of a package that involves violating the rights of local communities which is also pushed by pro-hunting companies. It is time to put pressure on governments who are engaging in land grabs under the guise of conservation projects,” said Porokwa.
The African Continental Free Trade Agreement is meant to boost inter-African trade and is expected to expand the continent’s economy. Its implementation started in January 2021 and, so far, it has been signed by 52 countries. For Meskerem Geset Techane, member of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, when it comes to international and regional trade agreements, States should consider these dynamics and integrate gender equality as a factor in their negotiations. She noted that some have adopted gender reviews in their trade policies, which is a strong step in that direction.
“It is important to explicitly recognise the specific role of women in trade, and the impact of all deals impacting trade on women, especially when it comes to impacts on food security and broader climate processes,” Geset Techane added.
Gender-based violence, civic space, freedom of expression and good governance in fragile States
In Africa, civic space continues to be threatened by internet shutdowns and restrictive laws that knowingly impede the work of civil society.
“In a country like Togo, freedom of expression can only be in peril. Once envied in the region, Togo’s press code has seen a resurgence of press and opinion-related offences. Togo’s press code does not recognise the use of social media by journalists. The use of social media can lead to jail. It happened to Fovi Katakou, a severely handicapped activist, because he shared a message on WhatsApp: he was arrested and detained without his wheelchair and only released because of intense pressure from the public,” shared Rodrigue Ahégo, a Togolese journalist. Though UN Special Procedures have expressed their concerns to Togo, particularly regarding a law on peaceful public demonstrations, their calls have not been heeded by the government.
“When, as is the case in Niger, fundamental rights and freedoms are undermined by laws that restrict civic space, the stability of the country and the rule of law are also undermined,” added Flora Stevens, Protection Manager at Agir Ensemble pour les Droits Humains.
In South Sudan, anyone who expresses their opinions risks facing violent repression, in blatant violation of their fundamental rights and freedoms, as was the case recently during the arrests of demonstrators in multiple cities and towns, including Juba. The prevalence of cases of gender-based violence shows that women and women human rights defenders are particularly targeted. There is evidence that members of the security forces deliberately target members of civil society, in particular human rights defenders and journalists, through acts of intimidation, harassment and threats.
Resolutions and recommendations
The NGO Forum adopted 9 country resolutions:
- Resolution on the human rights situation in the Central African Republic
- Resolution on the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo
- Resolution on the human rights situation in Egypt
- Resolution on the human rights situation in Eritrea
- Resolution on the human rights situation in Eswatini
- Resolution on the human rights situation in Mali
- Resolution on the human rights situation in South Sudan
- Resolution on the human rights situation in Tanzania
- Resolution on the human rights situation in Uganda
- Resolution on African civil society engagement and promoting digital rights and security
- Resolution on the death penalty and the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
- Resolution on the fight against impunity in Africa
- Resolution on military transitions in Africa
- Recommendation on the Addis Ababa roadmap
- Recommendation on the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement
- Engagement of people of African Descent and in the diaspora
- Recommendation on internet shutdowns in Africa: Unpacking the incidence of Internet shutdowns in Africa
- Recommendation on the establishment of a mechanism to establish Africa’s agenda for reparations for the trade and trafficking in enslaved Africans, colonialism and colonial crimes, and racial segregation
The adoption of the draft law approving the status of Non-Governmental Organisation in Angola by the National Assembly considerably limits in its provisions the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms and shrinks civic and democratic space. We are calling the Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders to help address this situation.
On 10 May 2023, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission) held a panel aiming to discuss ways to realise States’ obligations regarding the production of ESCR data and its use in policy-making, as well as how the Commission could work with States in realising them.