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ACHPR56: Updates from the East and Horn of Africa (April 2014 – April 2015)

The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network welcomes the opportunity offered by the 56th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) to highlight some of the current human rights issues in the East and Horn of Africa region for the period of April 2014 to April 2015.

This report was prepared with the assistance of reports and information received by the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (the secretariat of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network) from our members and partners from the sub-region. Due to the cancellation of the scheduled ACHPR session in October 2014, this report covers the full twelve-month period since the 55th Ordinary Session of the ACHPR, held in Luanda, Angola, in April 2014.

The past year has been marked in most countries in the sub-region by renewed government clampdowns on fundamental human rights, and the targeting through various means of human rights defenders (HRDs) working on the front lines of human rights protection. In many countries regressive legislation was passed, curtailing citizens’ rights to free expression and peaceful assembly. Increasingly, counter-terrorism laws were passed, and/or wilfully misapplied to target the work of journalists and human rights defenders. Across the region, administrative and bureaucratic obstacles were used by governments to disrupt the work of human rights defenders and journalists. In many countries, including Sudan and South Sudan, brutal armed conflicts resulted in appalling human rights abuses against civilian populations. In Burundi, the operating space for human rights defenders, and for civil society more generally, continued to narrow, with a number of activists and journalists targeted for arrest and detention throughout 2014.

In Eritrea, the United Nations Human Rights Council decided to establish a landmark commission of inquiry to investigate alleged violations of human rights in Eritrea. At the time of writing, the government of Eritrea had failed to cooperate with the commission. In Rwanda, fundamental civil and political rights continued to shrink, as the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front appeared to further entrench its political dominance ahead of Presidential elections in 2017. In Sudan, More than 450,000 people have fled violence in Darfur since the beginning of 2014, and ongoing armed conflicts in South Kordofan, and Blue Nile states resulted in large numbers of civilian deaths and displacement. In Uganda, as the country edges closer to 2016 general elections, there are reports that the government has become increasingly hostile towards civil society. In South Sudan, civilians are caught in the midst of a humanitarian and human rights crisis of almost unimaginable proportions, and one which has so far failed to receive adequate attention from the regional and international community. Human Rights Situation in the East and Horn of Africa: October 2013 – April 2014 3 In all countries in the sub-region, EHAHRDP has reported on the harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and journalists, and increasing attempts by state and non-state actors to smear, undermine, and disrupt the legitimate activities of civil society. These attacks take many forms: from threats against activists in South Sudan, to the jailing of prominent human rights defenders and journalists in Burundi, to the public smearing and targeting of legitimate human rights organisations in Kenya, on the basis of wholly spurious links to terrorist organisations.

Consistently throughout, human rights defenders continue to place themselves on the front line of human rights protection in the region, often at intolerable risks to their own safety. Recommendations In light of the updates and observations contained in this report, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project offers the following recommendations for action by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights: Call on member States to ensure the protection of human rights defenders, notably by observing the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other human rights treaties to which most of these countries are signatory; Call for an end to all practices, notably legal restrictions, which threaten fundamental rights contained in the Charter which are vital for the work of human rights defenders, in particular the freedom of expression, the freedoms of assembly and association; 

Carry out a Commission of Inquiry into violations of the Charter and international humanitarian law in the regions of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile in Sudan; Call upon the African Union Peace and Security Council to release the report of its own Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan, in an attempt to deliver the first steps in accountability for the many egregious human rights violations and violations of international law that have been committed in South Sudan since December 2013;Reaffirm its support for the International Criminal Court, and again urge AU member states to “ensure that the perpetrators of crimes under international human rights law and international humanitarian law should not benefit from impunity” (resolution 87, 5th December 2005); Take all necessary measures to follow up on decisions taken by the Commission on communications that remain unimplemented, so that victims’ may receive a remedy for the violations of their rights as contained in the Charter, especially requests for provisional measures;  Recognise that the rights contained in the African Charter apply to all people without discrimination on any grounds, including sexual orientation and gender identity; Human Rights Situation in the East and Horn of Africa: October 2013 – April 2014 4 Promote international criminal investigations into serious human rights violations committed in the region, where domestic remedies have failed; Encourage all members of the African Union to ratify and implement the provisions of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Good Governance; Encourage full engagement with the ACHPR by States in the sub-region, especially those in transition or conflict periods, such as Somalia and South Sudan, including by urging states to invite visits from the Commission and to submit periodic reports; Call on member States to deposit the declaration under article 34 (6) of the protocol of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights to allow individuals and NGOs to directly submit their cases to the court.

To read the full report, please click: FINAL EHAHRDP Report to the ACHPR 56th session April 2014- April 2015


Human Rights Defender of the month: Joseph Oleshangay

As a human rights lawyer and advocate with the High Court of the United Republic of Tanzania, Joseph Moses Oleshangay spends most of his time crossing from one court to another, litigating human rights cases, some with life-altering implications for ordinary people. It is a monumental responsibility, one he never envisaged growing up.

As a young boy born into a Maasai household in northern Tanzania, his entire childhood revolved around cattle: “Our entire livelihood revolved around cattle. As a child, the main preoccupation was to tend to cows, and my formative years were spent grazing cattle around Endulen. It a simple lifestyle,” he says.