Africa

Since 2014, there has been a sharp growth adoption of HRDs protection policies in African countries. More research is needed to understand this sharp growth of processes in Africa and the circumstances by which these processes are instigated or accelerated. It is possible that the diffusion of policies in Western Africa and Central Africa are a result of a “cascade model” in French speaking countries, which proposes that local civil society organizations and governments of neighbouring countries inspire other processes around drafting and passing protection laws.

There are significant similarities between legislation adopted by Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, for example, with one strongly inspiring the other.

In terms of laws for the protection of HRDs, the pioneer country in Africa has been the Democratic Republic of Congo, which started in 2007 to debate laws in provinces and at the national level, until June 15, 2023, when the Law 23/027 on the protection and responsibility of human rights defenders in the Democratic Republic of Congo was promulgated by the government of the DRC.

It has been especially since 2015 that laws have been passed in several countries, mostly, but not exclusively, in West Africa.

In general, these national laws have been based on the UN Declaration on HRDs, as well as on the Model Law developed by the International Service for Human Rights.

Collectively, these laws succinctly outline a number of rights for human rights defenders, which overlap to a large extent with the rights that everyone has as a citizen of these countries. Some laws regulate their application, others do not. And several laws contain a series of “responsibilities” on the part of HRDs, as for example in the 2014 law of Côte d’Ivoire:

. 10 : ” HRDs are obliged to exercise their rights and freedoms impartially and with respect for the rights of others, public safety and the general interest “.

. 12: “… Human rights defenders must contribute to the preservation and strengthening of social and national solidarity….

These responsibilities assigned to HRDs could serve as a basis for delegitimising the action of HRDs.

In the last four years, Africa has grappled with a new wave of civil wars and political instability. There have been 9 coups d’état across the Sahel, West, and Central Africa since 2020, and the civic space situation on the continent continues to deteriorate (DefendDefenders), leading to the abandonment (either legally or in practice) of previously enacted laws

Twenty (20) countries in Africa have, are or will be conducting their presidential and national elections in 2024. Whereas elections provide transparent transitions and power handing over, these democratic exercise is under attack. From military take-overs and constitutional coups, we are witnessing a new phenomenon where countries are proposing to or postponing elections to indefinite dates. This has caused civil strife in some countries such as Senegal. The violence has gone to after elections where the citizens have expressed dissatisfaction with the process as the case at the Republic of Comoros in January 2024. A similar scenario was witnessed in Nigeria in 2023 where elections results were announced at the wee hours of the night.

Despite setbacks, HRDs persist on the frontlines advocating for fair, credible, and transparent elections. They conduct civic education and collaborate with electoral bodies for voter education. Yet, they face backlash from both state and non-state actors when communities seek assistance for violations of their democratic rights.

HRDs have a noble duty to monitor the process and ensure it follows a human rights based approach. Human rights violations should be documented and reported to the relevant authorities for intervention. HRDs should be extremely careful with the post-election environment monitoring as this period determines the composition of the next government, judicial correspondence on the conduct of elections and feedback from monitoring groups on preparations for the next electioneering cycle. HRDs have a duty to ensure feedback mechanisms between the government and its citizens align with human rights commitments made at national, regional and at international human rights fora. HRDs also have to partner with both state and non-state actors on ensuring an enabling environment for civic actions against human rights violations and to guard jealously the right to defend human rights.

As of end of 2023, the list of countries with protection policies in Africa is as follows:
. Law in force: Ivory Coast, DRCDecree or sub-national regulation: DRC
. Discussions in force: Uganda, Madagascar, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Togo.

. Abandoned (either legally or in practice) of previously enacted laws: Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger.

COUPS, POST-COUP AND CONFLICT

HRDs – including journalists – in states under military transition in West and Central Africa (Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, Mali and Niger) were regularly summoned, judicially harassed, arrested or forced into exile. The military leadership in these countries routinely banned peaceful protests, invoking counter-terrorism legislation and imposing states of emergency. Several HRDs from Mali and Burkina Faso temporarily relocated outside of their countries to avoid detention, following threats they had received in response to their work monitoring and documenting human rights violations. (Front Line Defenders Global Analysis 2023/24 )

 

Updated: 23/05/2024

 

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