Capacity building of 24 defenders focused on engagement with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

For the first time, the Commission is hosting its 77th Ordinary Session in Arusha (Tanzania), along with the NGO Forum which provides an avenue for human rights defenders in Africa to advocate for critical issues on the continent and network with a wide range of stakeholders. As in previous years, the ACDHRS and ISHR worked together to promote access to civil society in engaging with African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) mechanisms and started by helding an essential training programme from 13th to 15th October.

Why a training ahead of ACHPR?

Human rights defenders in Africa play an indispensable role in defending human rights, democracy and the rule of law and are at the forefront of many positive outcomes such as adoption of protection laws for their vital work. Nevertheless, they encounter many obstacles (shrinking of civic space on the continent, increase of surveillance and smear campaigns, arbitrary arrests and killings etc.) that they have to overcome with the tools available to them in order to achieve their goals, such as the mechanisms provided by the ACHPR of the African Union. For these mechanisms to be effective, they need to be accessible to them, but unfortunately, very few training or didactic resources targeted to activists currently exist to have a comprehensive overview of the opportunities offered by the Commission, while there is an increasing demand (more than 1345 applicants).

This is why we have designed this unique training in order to equip defenders with the necessary knowledge and skills to make strategic use of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in their national advocacy strategies.

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Who were the participants?

It was the first time that those 24 experienced participants from across Africa* came together to learn about the regional system and participate in advocacy activities. This programme was organised in English and French to enable inclusive participation.

All of these committed defenders had something unique to bring to the table. Each of them had experiences in a diverse range of human rights fields including in women’s rights, LGBTIQ+ rights, environmental rights, democracy and governance or protection of human rights defenders, and through their participation and interactions, they created an enriching environment to learn from each other.

*Angola, Benin, Burundi, Comoros, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Madagascar, Nigeria, Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Uganda.

What did they achieve?

The objectives of this in-person training were to:

  • Have an overview of the international human rights systems and consider the African space within it;
  • Enhance the ability of human rights defenders to engage strategically with the ACHPR, as well as to develop civil society networks;
  • Explore and compare the benefits of engagement with these mechanisms, and examine how advocates can use them to bolster their work at the national level;
  • Share tools and knowledge, which human rights defenders can use to ensure their voice is central in regional human rights decision-making.

Through the interactive sessions held by ISHR and ACDHRS, they were able to get a grasp of the UN and African human rights system in general and in particular, they polished their advocacy techniques and analytic skills through practical workshops and scenario-based learnings, using for example the shadow reporting guidelines for civil society organisations.

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They also had the opportunity to meet and engage in sessions with Commissioner Hon. Dr. Litha Musyimi-OganaChafi Bakari from the OHCHR-East African Regional Office, and recognized advocates from RADDHO(Sadikh Niasse, Senegal) and the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU, with PraiseGod Millen Joseph).

Additionally, participants were given the opportunity to gain firsthand experience by attending the NGOs Forumscheduled from October 16th to 18th, 2023, and by being able to join the public sessions of the African Commission. This was useful to understand how things translate from theory to practice, and it supported the defenders in building their confidence by having a complete understanding of how it works in real life and then using that in ensuring their voice is heard and is central in regional human rights decision-making.

100% of the participants were either very satisfied or satisfied with the training, and they have all prepared activities to implement back home.

Defenders from the training engaging in a fictive scenario.

Defenders from the training engaging in a fictive scenario © ACDHRS

We are grateful for the invaluable support of PALU, Open Society Foundation and Ford for making this possible.

Defender from Liberia during the diploma closing ceremony with ISHR staff © ACDHRS