The ACHPR adopts a Resolution on the Right to Peaceful Demonstrations African States Must fully Abide by its Provisions

Nairobi, Paris, 28 May 2014 – FIDH welcomes the adoption, by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), of a Resolution on the Right to Peaceful Demonstrations. In a context where, in several countries across Africa, peaceful demonstrators have been the targets of violent repression and serious infringements to their fundamental rights, FIDH calls upon African States to fully implement the provisions of this Resolution and to abide by their regional and international obligations pertaining to the right to peaceful demonstration.

The Resolution of the ACHPR is particularly relevant. Over the past few months, thousands of peaceful demonstrators, from across the continent, were simply denied their fundamental rights. In front of social, economic and political protests, several States responded through the excessive and disproportionate use of force. We have seen it in Egypt, in Sudan, in Angola. In those countries, dialogue and justice must prevail over violence and impunity declared Karim Lahidji, FIDH President.

In its Resolution 281, the ACHPR condemns the “killings of peaceful demonstrators” and raises concerns over the “excessive use of force, live ammunition and tear gas to disperse peaceful demonstrators”, the “mass and arbitrary arrests and the continued detention of several people following peaceful demonstrations, with several reports of torture and ill-treatment in police stations” as well as the “increasing level of sexual violence against female protesters, including cases of rape and sexual assaults”. The Commission further denounces the “serious restrictions imposed by some states to fundamental rights and freedoms specifically freedom of expression and the right to information”.

This Resolution echoes the concerns repeatedly raised by FIDH, in particular regarding the situations in Egypt, Sudan and Angola. In Egypt, since July 2013, ongoing human rights violations have been documented including widespread assaults against freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and freedom of association and excessive use of force by security forces against protesters. FIDH has documented 250 cases in which women demonstrators were sexually assaulted and in some cases raped by individuals who have since enjoyed complete impunity. The authorities have also adopted restrictive laws – including the Law 107 of 2013 on the Right to Public Meetings, Processions and Peaceful Demonstrations adopted on November 24, 2013 – aimed at further curtailing the right to peaceful demonstration and freedom of expression. Since its adoption, this law has been used to target human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists. Three were sentenced to three years imprisonment in December 2013, and 24 are currently facing trial in a terrorism circuit for their participation in a protest against military trials for civilians in November 2013.

The suspension of Egypt from the African Union should not preclude the country from strictly abiding by its obligations under the African Charter. The Resolution 281 must be regarded by the authorities as an additional tool to ensure that the rights enshrined in the Charter are fully respected. We also expect that this Resolution will be followed by a stronger engagement of the ACHPR into the fight against the serious human rights violations prevailing in Egypt declared Amina Bouayach, FIDH Secretary General.

In Sudan, no meaningful investigation has permitted to shed light on the circumstances which led to the killings, in September 2013, by security forces, of at least 170 peaceful demonstrators who protested against the planned increases in the prices of petrol and gas. There has been no investigation either into the allegations of widespread and arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment and torture of detainees and into the restrictions on freedom of expression and association experienced during the protests.

The ACHPR Resolution should constitute the basis of a strengthened dialogue between Sudanese authorities and the Commission. In light with the complete impunity of those responsible for the September 2013 bloody repression of the demonstrations, we reiterate our call for the deployment of an ACHPR Commission of Inquiry to Sudan mandated to investigate the violence, identify those responsible and ensure that victims get justice declared Sheila Muwanga Nabachwa, FIDH Vice President.

In Angola, the country which hosted the 55th ordinary session of the ACHPR, dozens of demonstrators have experienced waves of violent repression since early 2011. In this country, demonstrations were aimed at requesting for the end of a political and economic system based on patronage, inequalities, injustices, corruption and lack of freedoms. As detailed in an FIDH report on Angola to be released in June, authorities sought to undermine the movement with the use of excessive and disproportionate force against demonstrators, arbitrary arrests and detention, acts of intimidation and harassment.

This Resolution of the ACHPR is particularly significant when applied to the Angolan context. During the recent session of the Commission, held in this country, we have witnessed the authorities’ public commitments to uphold their human rights obligations. The Commission has a leading role to play in ensuring that those commitments do not remain symbolic and that Angola fully implement the Resolution 281 and abide by its obligations under the African Charter declared Mabassa Fall, FIDH Representative to the African Union.

FIDH calls upon African States to abide by their obligations under articles 4, 5, 6, 7 and 9 of the African Charter and to fully implement the recommendations contained in the Resolution 281, in particular those calling upon States to “refrain from disproportionate use of force against demonstrators whilst fully complying with international standards on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials”, to “uphold the right to a fair trial before an independent ordinary court of law and put an end to arbitrary arrests and detentions and to the use of special courts, including military tribunals for civilians” and to “conduct impartial and independent investigations into all human rights violations to ensure that all perpetrators are held accountable”.

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