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ACHPR57: Statement on Activity Report of the Special Rapporteur on Rights of Human Rights Defenders

57th Ordinary Session of the Africa Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Banjul, The Gambia

Public Session

Item 11: Activity Reports of Members of the Commission and Special Mechanisms

Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders 4th November 2015

Statement by the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project

Madame Chairperson, distinguished Commissioners, State Delegates, representatives of NHRIs and NGOs; all protocols respectfully observed.

Madame Chairperson, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project appreciates Honourable Commissioner Gansou for her tireless and committed engagement with human rights defenders across Africa.

We support Honourable Commissioner Gansou’s condemnation in the strongest terms of the assassination of Pierre Claver Mbonimpa’s son, one of Burundi’s most prominent human rights defenders.

Pierre Claver Mbonimpa is currently nursing severe injuries following an attempt on his life. The once vibrant and active civil society in Burundi is under such stress that human rights work, outside of monitoring and sharing of information on social media, is now almost non-existent.

The past six months have seen a series of elections conducted in the East and Horn of Africa sub region. Numerous human rights defenders working within this context have been targeted and many forced into exile.

Judicial harassment and arbitrary detention increased in the lead up to elections.
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In Burundi Pierre Claver Mbonimpa and journalists Bob Rugurika were arrested and later released prior to the heavily criticised July 2015 elections. There have been innumerable cases of administrative and legal harassment and attacks in Burundi since the crisis broke out in April 2015.

There are fears that the 2016 elections in Uganda will be held under a very restrictive legal regime with laws such as the Public Order Management Act in play. Journalists and political activists have been specifically attacked. Surveillance has been used to crush and potentially blackmail opponents of the President with newly acquired surveillance technology.

Journalists who play an important role in monitoring and reporting human rights violations pay a heavy price for their valuable work. Maydaneh Okieh, Chief Editor of the online news outlet Voice of Djibouti was arrested and sentenced to pay 11,000 US dollars in compensation after mentioning the name of a police officer in a social media post. In South Sudan, journalists covering political issues have come under attack. Since April 2015, there have been over 20 reported incidents of journalists receiving threats from individuals claiming to be officials from the government or the National Security Services, and seven have already lost their lives this year. President Salva Kiir himself has threatened journalists.

Anti- terrorism legislation continues to be used as a tool to restrict civil society space especially in Kenya and Ethiopia. As governments tackle insecurity, civil society has been caught in the crossfire.

Organisations such as MUHURI and HAKI Africa that work to counter violent extremism were targeted under Kenya’s anti-terrorism laws.

Across the region administrative and bureaucratic obstacles were used by governments to disrupt the work of civil society. In Kenya, whose state report is due for consideration at this session, the assault on civil society continues. Just a few days ago, there was a threat to deregister over 900 civil society organisations including Kenya Human Rights Commission on allegations of misappropriation of funds and terrorism related issues.

The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project recommend that the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights:

• Call on member States to ensure the protection of human rights defenders and enable a conducive environment for them to carry out their crucial work;

• Rapidly set up a commission to investigate the widespread human rights abuses taking place in Burundi, as mandated by the African Union Peace and Security Council on 17 October 2015;

• 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;

• Call for the release of all human rights defenders detained merely for doing their work;

• Reaffirm its unequivocal condemnation of all acts of violence and reprisals against human rights defenders, including against those who cooperate with the African human rights system

I thank you.