DefendDefenders’ and AfricanDefenders’ statements at ACHPR68

Oral statements delivered by DefendDefenders and AfricanDefenders at the 68th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR68). 

 


Statement on the report of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa

Honourable Chairperson, 

Honourable Commissioners, 

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, 

We welcome the report of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa and condemn the many challenges faced by human rights defenders including  police brutality, unfair trials, censorship and arbitrary arrests. 

Over the last nine months, we have documented an increase of cases of human rights violations against human rights defenders, journalists and artists on the continent and the statistics continue to be alarming with up to 216  cases recorded during this period. We documented 67 cases in North Africa, 39 cases in West Africa, 23 cases in Central Africa, 68 cases in East and Horn of Africa and 19 cases in Southern Africa. These cases ranged from violations against freedom of expression, right to personal liberty, peaceful assembly and association among others. 

Honourable Chairperson, 

During  election periods there was an increase in human rights violations. In Uganda we recorded over 40 violations against human rights defenders and journalists during the 2021 general elections. Furthermore, there is an increase in the use of blanket wide internet shutdowns and restrictions of popular social media applications during election periods  to restrict  monitoring and reporting of electoral processes.  This trend was witnessed in Chad, Uganda, Congo Brazzaville and Niger. 

Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be pestilent on the continent. Human rights defenders have mobilised peaceful protests in response to states’ handling of the pandemic, repressive policies silencing dissenting voices and rapidly shrinking civic space. State apparatus are used to crackdown on peaceful protests with violence, arbitrary arrests and unfair trials such as in the case of #EndSars protests in Nigeria , #ZimbabweanLivesMatter in Zimbabwe, and #ShutItAllDown protests to spotlight gender-based violence in Namibia. Moreover, allies of protest movements such as journalists covering the protests are also targeted. 

Honourable Chairperson, 

Artists are silenced for their critical expressions. Their work calling on states to address violations of fundamental freedoms continues to be criminalised through the use of repressive laws such as anti-terrorism legislations and public order laws. Shady Habash, a 24 year old filmmaker from Egypt, died in prison after being held in pre-trial detention for two years because of a video he worked on that criticises the government.  

Human rights defenders working in conflict areas play a critical role in keeping warring parties accountable for human rights violations against civilians. However, they continue to operate in a climate of fear of reprisals from not only the state but also militant groups. This fear more often than not causes them to practice self-censorship. 

Honourable Chairperson, 

It is important for this Commission to note that defenders working in conflict areas face additional health risks as COVID-19 mitigation interventions are scarce in conflict ridden areas. Additionally, journalists covering conflict also face risks of reprisals and sometimes lose their lives in the course of duty.  For instance, Jamal Farah Adan from Somalia was gunned down in March 2021. 

In light of this alarming trends, we call on the Commission to urge states to critically assess the state of artistic freedom especially in the context of the African Union Theme of the year ‘Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want’, adhere to the commission’s guidelines on freedom of assembly and association and policing and take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of human rights defenders working in conflict areas. 

I thank you, Honorable Chairperson. 

 


Statement on the report of the Special Rapporteur on Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Internally Displaced Persons and Migrants in Africa

Honorable Chairperson, 

Honorable Commissioners, 

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, 

Allow me on behalf of DefendDefenders and AfricanDefenders to welcome the report of the Special Rapporteur on Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Internally Displaced Persons and Migrants in Africa. We wish to reiterate that many human rights defenders on the continent are currently living in exile, a situation that is self-imposed as a measure to protect themselves from threats associated with their work. These threats that are mostly perpetrated by state security agents and/or non-state armed groups, include judicial harassment comprising selective application of repressive laws to target and silence human rights defenders; direct threats such as surveillance, harassment and death threats; arbitrary arrests, abductions, and enforced disappearances; and smear campaigns. 

Honorable Chairperson, 

Since 2015, human rights defenders from Burundi have been fleeing their home country in search for a safe haven following consistent threats and attacks as a result of their work to expose grave violations of human rights and international law in the country. Many were hopeful that the situation in Burundi would stabilize and allow for the repatriation of exiled human rights defenders following the election of President Evariste Ndayishimiye, however, it is unfortunate to note that to date, we are still supporting at risk human rights defenders to relocate to other countries under our Ubuntu Hub Cities initiative. 

In Nigeria, many youth activists were forced to leave their homes as a result of the government’s crackdown on all those that played a role in the organization of the October 2020 #EndSARS protests. Several of these activists are still unable to return home as their safety in Nigeria is not yet guaranteed. 

Human rights defenders in North Africa particularly from Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria and Morocco, continue to live in limbo due to the unfavorable working environments in their home countries. Bahey eldin Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, was in August 2020 sentenced to 15 years in prison despite living in exile since 2014 as a result of his activism work. 

Honorable Chairperson, 

While in exile, human rights defenders continue to face many challenges to their livelihoods. Exile is not always a guarantee of safety and security and many defenders are often exposed to online surveillance and other forms of virtual threats when they attempt to continue their activism work. These threats also sometimes extend to their physical space especially when they are in locations that are in close geographical proximity to their home countries. This is mostly due to the presence of strong diplomatic and political influences between neighboring countries. 

Furthermore, exiled human rights defenders often face economic challenges as finding employment is not an easy task especially with the current floundering economies and saturated job markets in most parts of Africa as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Women human rights defenders face additional economic challenges when living in exile with their dependents as it becomes more difficult for them to provide for their families without a reliable support system. Immigration status regularization also forms a barrier to socio-economic integration as it hinders defenders’ ability to legally access employment and social services. 

Additionally, a crucial yet often overlooked aspect of exile is the pressure on the psychological wellbeing of defenders as a result of constant threats, economic challenges, and the lack of access to their support systems and psychosocial support services. 

Honorable Chairperson, 

The protection of human rights defenders is paramount to the advancement of human rights on the continent. We call on this Commission to ensure that state parties meet their obligations under the Grand Bay Declaration, the Kigali Declaration, and the Cotonou Declaration on strengthening and expanding the protection of all human rights defenders in Africa; and urge state parties to ease visa and asylum procedures for human rights defenders at risk and ensure that the rights of migrants and refugees are respected. 

I thank you, Honorable Chairperson. 

 


Statement on environmental HRDs working on extractive industries

Honorable Chairperson, 

Distinguished Commissioners, 

State Delegates represented, 

Ladies and gentlemen, 

On behalf of DefendDefenders and AfricanDefenders, we welcome the report of the Chairperson of the Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations in Africa. 

We wish to reiterate that environmental human rights defenders play a crucial role in ensuring that business enterprises abide by their responsibility to respect human rights. As their work spans across issues relating to natural resources, biodiversity, ecosystems and livelihoods, they may cause or contribute to adverse human rights impacts, including on the enjoyment of cultural rights by members of communities whose traditional livelihood systems are intertwined with their natural environment. 

Yet, while countless human rights and environmental violations committed by business operations have been reported across the continent, in particular in the extractive industries sector, justice and accountability are seldom achieved, fuelling a vicious cycle of impunity. 

Hon. Chairperson, 

In October 2020, Fikile Ntshangase was gunned down in her home near Mtubatuba, South Africa in retaliation for her efforts to challenge the further expansion of a large coal mine in KwaZulu-Natal by Tendele Coal Mining (Pty) Ltd. 

In September 2020, police arrested three journalists and six environmental activists in Hoima, Uganda after they denounced the destruction of one of the country’s largest forest reserves and the risks posed by the development of the oil industry in the Western part of the country. 

Honorable Chairperson, 

Effective, thorough, impartial and transparent investigations into attacks against environmental human rights defenders remain scarce. 

Taking concrete actions to prevent attacks against defenders who put their lives at risk to protect those affected by business activities is essential. These include creating strong and appropriate legal preventive and protection mechanisms to address attacks, reprisals and criminalisation of environmental defenders, to hold those committing these abuses to account and to ensure access to justice, other redress mechanisms, and effective remedies for the communities affected. 

Honorable Chairperson,

We deplore that the discussion initiated by the AU  to adopt a Policy Framework on Human Rights and Business has stop somewhere with no further action. 

We therefore call on the Commission to take necessary measures to ensure that states create and maintain a safe and enabling environment in which environmental human rights defenders can operate free from hindrance and insecurity. 

I thank you, Honorable Chairperson. 

 


Item 3: Human rights situation in Africa

Honorable Chairperson,

Honorable Commissioners,

State Delegates represented,

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of AfricanDefenders and DefendDefenders, allow me to express to this august house our sincere condolences on the passing of Hon. Ndiame Gaye.  We commit you, and his entire family into God’s merciful hands to find the solace you need to deal with the grief.

We will not forget also the tragic death of our dear comrade Prof Christof Heyns, a true Pan African Human Rights Defender and respected international expert, who will be sorely missed.

Monsieur le Président,

Notre continent continue d’être marqué par des conflits, des violences et une répression accrue à l’encontre des ONG. Depuis janvier, nous avons documenté 132 cas de violations sur le continent contre des DDH, journalistes et artistes.

Si nous joignons notre voix à la vôtre pour acclamer l’attribution du statut d’observateur aux ONG d’Afrique du Nord, nous aimerions par la même occasion porter à votre aimable attention, avec preuve à l’appui, le fait qu’un certain nombre d’ONG d’Afrique du Nord ayant travaillé activement avec la Commission par le passé ont hésité à utiliser cet espace en raison d’actes répétés de représailles, d’intimidations et de répression de la part de leurs représentants gouvernementaux respectifs, ce en toute impunité, et y compris lors des sessions de la Commission. 

Au cours des derniers mois, les autorités algériennes et égyptiennes ont intensifié leur restriction des libertés fondamentales, par la condamnation arbitraire de journalistes, des arrestations et multiples procès inéquitables, et parfois une réponse brutale et disproportionnée face aux manifestations pacifiques.

Nous appelons donc la Commission à engager des conversations franches avec les États sur la mise en œuvre de ses lignes directrices sur la liberté d’association et de réunion pacifique.

Monsieur le Président,

Les restrictions systématiques des libertés fondamentales à l’approche des élections constituent l’une des tendances les plus inquiétantes pour la réalisation des droits et libertés en Afrique. Cela représente une croissante menace pour la stabilité et la gouvernance du continent. Nous avons tous été témoins de la situation récente au Tchad, en République centrafricaine, en Côte d’Ivoire, en Guinée, au Congo, et en Ouganda.

Les coupures d’Internet sont également une tendance de plus en plus préoccupante lors des processus électoraux en Afrique ; des coupures totales ou partielles ont été comptabilisées en Algérie, au Burundi, au Congo, en Éthiopie, en Guinée, au Mali, au Tchad, au Togo, en Tanzanie, en Ouganda et au Zimbabwe.

En Somalie, les tensions continuent de s’accroître en raison de la fragilité politique. L’impasse électorale menace de déstabiliser le pays, la classe politique n’ayant toujours pas réussi à se mettre d’accord sur la tenue des élections. Tandis qu’en Ouganda, au cours des périodes pré- et post-électorales, des rapports indiquent que des cortèges pacifiques de l’opposition ont été dispersés avec une extrême violence et à balles réelles. Au moins 430 partisans de l’opposition politique auraient été enlevés, détenus au secret et/ou torturés.

En Libye, alors que le pays se dirige vers des élections, les progrès du processus de paix restent limités, les groupes armés continuant à perpétrer de graves violations des droits humains en toute impunité.

La situation au Cameroun continue d’attirer notre attention et nous vous exhortons, Monsieur le Président, à demander des comptes à travers une commission d’enquête pour avoir une réponse adéquate à la crise qui depuis 2016 a fait plus de 3.500 morts et des centaines de milliers de déplacés internes. 

Honourable Chairperson, 

Our call is yet to receive a feedback. 

We reiterate our deep concern over systemic human rights violations, the mounting tension ahead of election and the ethnic division in Ethiopia. 

We call for immediate and adequate action of the Union to achieve truth, justice and accountability. 

Honorable Chairperson,

Of utmost concern is also the unfolding crisis in Mozambique. The stability of the region is at stake. 

Thank you for your attention. 

 


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