From 18th to 20th October 2021, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) hosted a regional consultation in Abidjan on protecting civic and democratic space and strengthening the protection of human rights defenders in times of crisis. During the consultation, restrictions for defenders were discussed, especially concerning restrictions due to Covid-19.
The initiative was prompted by recent developments around the pandemic, due to which governments adopted restrictions that had a significant impact on civic space and human rights defenders. The consultation also concerned more general developments in state efforts to protect or restrict defenders.
Many different parties were involved in the discussions. Human rights defender coalitions from from Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, Mali and Sierra Leone contributed by sharing the impact of restrictions and good practices on their work. International actors and civil society organisation were also present to point out good practices in the different states concerned and voice their support for human rights defenders. These actors include the CNDH, ISHR, the special rapporteurs, the Ambassadors of Belgium and Switzerland in Côte d’Ivoire and the representative of the Minister of Justice and Human Rights.
Apart from restrictions for human rights defenders due to Covid-19, discussions evolved around the impact of decisions by national and international authorities on the work of defenders. An important subject was the role of special rapporteurs in the protection of civic space and defenders, their mandate and the accessibility of this mechanism for defenders.
To help defenders continue their vital work for the protection of human rights during crises, a compendium of good practices analysing experiences of defenders in Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso was shared with the participant. It’s a document that aim to facilitate the continuity of defenders’ work in times of covid-19 and other crises. The compendium has been produced by ISHR with the support of national coalitions on the basis of an analysis considering the good practices developed by defenders and governments and the provisions of mechanisms for the protection of the rights of defenders.