November 15 marked the last day of the 61st Ordinary Session of the ACHPR taking place in Banjul, The Gambia as the Commission celebrates 30 years of advancing human rights in Africa.

As government officials, ACHPR Commissioners and civil society representatives leave Banjul, it is prudent to reflect on the role of the Commission in defending and promoting human rights and lessons that can be applied to improve the work of the Commission. 

The Commission has, over the last three decades, passed resolutions condemning human rights violations in several African countries and served as a platform for human rights defenders from across Africa to raise concerns on restrictions on fundamental freedoms. During the Session of the Commission that ends today, the Commission adopted recommendations on guidelines to freedom of association and assembly provided by a study composed of representatives of human rights organisations working in the different regions of Africa. 

The session was graced by the new Gambian President Adama Barrow who promised that the Gambia’s Truth Commission will address the issue of impunity for human rights violations committed during the regime of former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh. President Barrow also announced that The Gambia shall soon promulgate a law that will allow for Gambian citizens and NGOs to be able to file cases directly to the African Court. This is a major shift from the human rights position adopted by the former Gambian regime, which regarded human rights defenders and civil society organisations as a threat to the regime and threated them as such. 

Said CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns Coordinator Teldah Mawarire: “The ACHPR should build on the progress made in advancing human rights on the continent over the last three decades, learn lessons from the experiences of countries like the Gambia where the space for civil society is opening up after more than two decades of repressive rule, and take stock of the massive challenges that human rights defenders and civil society organisations continue to experience in almost all African countries and act on them. It is time to adopt new ways of doing things better.”

As the Commission celebrates it’s 30th year, 10 out of 21 countries that are rated as closed by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online tool that tracks threats to civil society in all countries worldwide, are African. This indicates a complete closure in law and practice of civic space in these countries. Human rights defenders, journalists and representatives of civil society continue to be targeted by governments with some killed and many more forced to flee their homes and countries to avoid reprisals from states. Many civil society organisations are closed down, raided and prevented from receiving funding to do their work. Security forces use disproportionate force to disperse peaceful protests while states shut down the Internet and social media sites during elections or politically sensitive periods to prevent citizens from expressing themselves.

The new Commissioners have an immediate responsibility to look into human rights violations in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Togo, Cameroon, Sudan, South Sudan, Djibouti, Central African Republic, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, and to urge greater accountability by the African Union.

For the Commission to stay relevant, African Union member states must be urged to adopt guidelines and resolutions passed by the Commission, domesticate them and respect all decisions taken by the Commission. 

ENDS

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Teldah Mawarire

Advocacy and Campaigns Coordinator,

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Phone number: + 27 11 833 5959

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