Contribution to the 49th ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

49th Ordinary Session, Banjul, Republic of The Gambia, May 2011

Contribution of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) within the framework of their joint programme, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, under the agenda item: “Situation of Human Rights Defenders”

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of their joint programme, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, express their deep concern about the situation of human rights defenders who continue to work for the respect, promotion and defence of human rights for all on the African continent in a hostile and dangerous environment.

While it is true that in many cases the women and men who are in the front line defending human rights are better protected than when the United Nations Declaration on Defenders was adopted in 1998, in particular thanks to the introduction of alert and protection mechanisms at national and regional level, they are also under greater threat owing to their constant achievements. With the help of specific programmes such as the Observatory, which has accompanied them for over 14 years, human rights defenders have been able to make themselves heard at national level, and in forums and regional and international organisations. They continue to be active in a great variety of areas, such as economic, social and cultural rights, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights (LGBT), the fight against corruption and the fight against impunity. Thanks to their efforts, considerable progress has been made in obtaining that human rights be recognised as being of prime importance in the exercise of power and the resolution of conflicts. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) has made a major contribution to such developments, in particular by adopting several resolutions for the promotion and protection of human rights defenders in Africa, and by keeping the matter constantly under review in its activities and agenda.

In North Africa, the early part of the year 2011 has been marked by a succession of social protests that reflected the peoples’ aspiration for social and political reforms, in order to fully enjoy universally recognised rights and fundamental freedoms. These events highlighted the great importance of having a strong and recognised civil society for channelling the peoples’ demands and conveying them to those in power. From Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia, in December 2010, to Cairo a few weeks later, the wave of massive social protests spread to neighbouring countries, such as Libya and Algeria. This surge of protest has affected Zimbabwe, where 46 people were arrested last February for having watched a video of the social protest movements in Tunisia and Egypt, and elsewhere. In their fear of further social protest movements calling for respect for fundamental freedoms, some countries have indeed intensified their repression, especially against human rights defenders.

Despite these favourable developments, enormous challenges still lie ahead for the promotion and protection of defenders, who are still being severely persecuted in numerous countries. In this respect, the Observatory is concerned at the multiplication of violations against human rights defenders committed by State and non-State actors, most often in impunity.

Restrictions to the freedom of association

Legislation and administrative practices designed to restrict the freedom of association

In some States parties there is little or no space in which the freedom of association can develop.

In Libya, where for several weeks there has been fighting, independent human rights groups and movements are still unable to form associations openly, as the setting up of an association requires prior administrative authorisation that is hardly ever given when the activity of the association is to defend human rights. In June 2009, the General People’s Congress adopted Decision 312/2009 by which all new organisations have to give 30 days’ notice for a public meeting or event, and have to communicate to the authorities the full list of participants and the issues to be addressed. Under Law No. 71 and the Criminal Code any person belonging to a “forbidden group” is punished by death. Likewise,

In Algeria, the authorities still refuse to grant legal recognition to human rights organisations, as in the case of SOS Disappeared (SOS Disparus) and the Mich’al Association of Children of Jijel Disappeared (Association Mich’al des enfants de disparus de Jijel - AMEDJ).

In Tunisia, the transition authorities have announced several measures designed to guarantee respect for the rule of law and fundamental freedoms. In this context, on February 26, 2011, the Tunis Administrative Court cancelled a 1999 decision by the Ministry of the Interior opposing the establishment of the National Council for Liberties in Tunisia (Conseil national pour les libertés en Tunisie - CNLT). On January 15, 2011, access to the premises of the branches and headquarters of the Tunisian Human Rights League (Ligue tunisienne des droits de l’Homme - LTDH) was restored. And on April 16, 2011, LTDH was able to hold its congress for the first time since 2005, in the Hammamet section. The Association for the Fight Against Torture in Tunisia (Association de lutte contre la torture en Tunisie - ALTT), which until now the Tunisian Government had considered to be illegal, on February 18, 2011 filed with the Ministry of the Interior a new application for registration under the name of Organisation Against Torture in Tunisia (Organisation contre la torture en Tunisie - OCTT). In the absence of any response within three months, OCTT will de facto be established legally.

Smear campaigns, legal harassment and administrative sanctions

In Zimbabwe, in recent months, Mr. Abel Chikomo, Executive Director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (Forum), was questioned repeatedly by the police on the Forum’s activities, in particular about a campaign against torture, a national enquiry on transitional justice and several press releases published in 2011 on the resurgence of political violence. On February 9, 2011, the Machipisa police in Harare arrested two Forum investigators, and questioned them about their work. They were finally released after receiving the assurance that the Director, Mr. Chikomo, would report the next morning to the Machipisa police station. On March 30, 2011, during his last summons to the directorate of the Harare criminal police, Mr. Chikomo was accused of “managing and controlling the operations of an illegal voluntary organisation”, on the basis of Article 6 (3) of the Private Voluntary Organisations Act (PVO Act). He was allowed to return home the same day, on condition he would report again to the police station the next day.

In Burundi, on October 20, 2011, at a meeting in his office in the presence of representatives of several NGOs, the Minister of the Interior addressed the question of the cancellation of the approval of the Burundi Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (Association burundaise pour la protection des droits humains et des personnes détenues - APRODH) and the replacement of its President, Mr. Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa. On the same day, a press conference was held by the national police Spokesman in the offices of the police directorate during which the President of APRODH was reportedly accused of supporting armed bandits. On January 28, 2011, after more than a year of tense relations between the Forum for the Strengthening of Civil Society (Forum pour le renforcement de la société civile - FORSC) [1] and the Government, the Ministry of the Interior ordered the rehabilitation of the Forum, whose approval had been withdrawn on November 23, 2009 by the Ministry of the Interior on the grounds that its application was not in order, although it had been approved by the same ministry in 2006.

Repression of peaceful demonstrations and social protest movements: the security of defenders threatened

Restrictions to the freedom of peaceful assembly

In Cameroon, on November 11, 2010, Mr. Jean-Marc Bikoko, President of the Public Sector Trade Union (Centrale syndicale du secteur public - CSP), Mr. Maurice Angelo Phouet Foe, Secretary General of the National Autonomous Education and Training Trade Union (Syndicat national autonome de l’éducation et la formation - SNAEF), Mr. Theodore Mbassi Ondoa, Executive Secretary of the Cameroon Federation of Education Trade Unions (Fédération camerounaise des syndicats de l’éducation - FECASE), Mr. Joseph Ze, Secretary General of the United National Trade Union of Teachers and Professors of Teacher Training Establishments (Syndicat national unitaire des instituteurs et professeurs des écoles normales - SNUIPEN), Mr. Eric Nla’a, a CSP accountant, and Messrs. Nkili Effoa and Claude Charles Felein, members of SNUIPEN, were arrested by the police during a peaceful demonstration organised by CSP in order to convey to the Prime minister a memorandum drawn up by the public sector workers and addressed to the President, relating in particular to improvements to the workers’ conditions. The seven trade union leaders, who were unable to have access to their lawyer, were brought before the Prosecutor the next morning. On November 12, 2010, they were released by the Public Prosecutor, who told them that they would have to appear before the Yaoundé First Instance Court to face charges of “organising an illegal demonstration” and “disturbing the public peace”. After several postponements, the case has still not been heard. A new hearing is scheduled for May 16, 2011.

In Burkina Faso, according to information received by the Burkinabe Movement for Human and Peoples’ Rights (Mouvement burkinabé des droits de l’Homme et des peuples - MBDHP), students’ demonstrations organised in several cities to protest against the behaviour of certain elements of the police, to call for truth and justice regarding the assassination of a schoolchild in the Central-West region, and to say no to the culture of impunity, were repressed by the police, who fired real bullets. The toll at present is five killed and several dozens wounded. In this context, Mr. Chrysogone Zougmoré, MBDHP President, received threats from certain elements of the national gendarmerie. He was summoned on March 10, 2011 to the investigation section of the national gendarmerie to “receive a notification”, and was accused of having encouraged, even organised the demonstrations through the local sections of the organisation. Representatives of the gendarmerie declared to the MBDHP representative that the organisation would be held responsible for any material or human damage sustained owing to the demonstrations.

Repression against Tunisian defenders in the framework of the “Jasmine Revolution”

In December 2010 and January 2011, a wave of arrests and intimidation measures hit several human rights defenders, in particular lawyers and journalists denouncing violations committed by the law enforcement agencies during the repression against the national social protest movement against the lack of social justice, corruption and lack of respect for fundamental freedoms. On December 28, 2010, lawyers. Abderraouf Ayadi, in charge of CNLT legal affairs, and Chokri Belaîd were arrested and then unconditionally released the next morning. Earlier during the day, the two lawyers had addressed a lawyers’ demonstration organised in front of the Tunis Law Courts to denounce the violent repression against social movements in the country. On December 29, 2010, in Jendouba, Mr. Mouldi Zouabi, a journalist with Radio Kalima and correspondent of Al-Quds Al-Arabi and Al-Arabyya, was arrested while covering a gathering of lawyers, and then unconditionally released eight hours later. Furthermore, Mr. Ammar Amroussia, Al-Badil correspondent, was arrested the same day in Gafsa. Following these events, the President of the Tunis Bar, Mr. Abderrazaq Kilani, and the Tunis Bar Association called for a peaceful demonstration of lawyers on December 31 in several cities, which was violently put down by the police, in particular in Tunis, Gafsa, Sfax, Mahdia, Grombalia and Monastir. In addition, on January 11, 2011, the peaceful demonstration of artists expressing their support for the social protest movement in front of the Tunis municipal theatre was violently repressed and dispersed by numerous plainclothes and uniformed policemen. Several lawyers who took part in the demonstration were assaulted by police officers. On January 13, 2011, lawyer Mohammed Mezam was detained in solitary confinement in the Ministry of the Interior until his release on January 14, 2011.

Following the fall of President Ben Ali on January 14, 2011, journalist Fahem Boukaddous and activist Hassan Ben Abdallah, a member of the local committee of the unemployed in Redeyef, who had been detained respectively since six and 11 months, were released on January 19, as promised by the Transitional Government. Furthermore, on February 16, 2011, following the adoption of a general amnesty law, all human rights defenders were released [2].

Resonance of the “Jasmine Revolution”: targeted repression against Egyptian and Algerian defenders

In Egypt, human rights defenders giving legal, judiciary, social or humanitarian assistance to the demonstrators were arrested, and their means of communication impeded. On February 3, 2011, 30 defenders were arrested by the military police and held for over 24 hours in an unidentified place, where police officers enjoined them to stop supporting the demonstrators, at times ill-treating them. Lawyers of the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre (HMLC), voluntary workers with the Front to Defend Egypt Protestors and members of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch were among the persons detained: Messrs. Ahmed Seif al-Islam Hamad, Mohsen Besheer and Mostafa al-Hassan, as well as Ms. Mona al-Masry, Mr. Daniel Williams, Ms. Fatma Abada, Mr. Saeed Hadadi and Mr. Khaled Ali, and Mr. Mohamed al-Taher and Ms. Shahenda Abushadi, Ms. Nadine Abushadi and Ms. Nada Sadek. During their detention, the defenders were harassed by military security agents, and some were subjected to ill-treatments. In addition, the cell phones, cameras and computers of some of them were destroyed by members of the military police. All the defenders arrested on February 3 were released between February 4 and 6.

In Algeria, acts of intimidation were committed when several trade unions, political parties, human rights organisations and civil society organisations, including the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (Ligue algérienne pour la défense des droits de l’Homme - LADDH), announced the creation of a National Coordination for Change and Democracy (Coordination nationale pour le changement et la démocratie - CNCD), and called for a peaceful march on February 12. The aim of the march was to call for the lifting of the state of emergency that had been in force since 1992, the release of persons detained for their participation in the demonstrations, and an opening up of the political and media arena. On February 7, the Algiers Wilaya announced that it refused to authorise the march for “reasons of public order”. CNCD however decided to exercise its right to peaceful assembly all the same, and maintained the February 12 event. On February 11, 2011, Messrs. Kateb Said, Akrem El Kebir, Chouicha Sihem, Ait Tayab Hassan and Bouha Yacine, young activists belonging to the Oran branch of LADDH, were arrested while distributing flyers calling for the February 12 gathering. They were questioned, and then released two hours later. In addition, a large force of uniformed and plainclothes police was deployed around the LADDH headquarters in Algiers and Oran, and stayed there all day.

Arrest of defenders in connection with their support for peaceful demonstrations

In Sudan, human rights defenders were arrested in a context of peaceful social protests organised by young activists calling for democracy and respect for human rights, which began on January 30, 2011. These demonstrations were violently repressed by national security forces. In ten days, more than a hundred demonstrators were arrested, and some of them were subjected to acts of torture and ill treatment by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS). On February 3, 2011, Mr. Ahmed Mahmoud Ahmed, a student activist, blogger and rapper, was arrested by NISS in Khartoum Bari, and then released on February 15, after having been tortured. On February 9, Mr. Abdelazim Mohamed Ahmed, Director of the Khartoum branch of the Easter Centre for Culture and Legal Aid, was also arrested by NISS, and held in solitary confinement until his release on February 13, 2011.

Likewise, in Djibouti, on February 9, 2011, Mr. Jean-Paul Noël Abdi, President of the Djibouti League of Human Rights (Ligue djiboutienne des droits humains - LDDH), was arrested by members of the national gendarmerie and taken to their headquarters in Djibouti-city. On the same day, Mr. Jean-Paul Noël Abdi and Mr. Farah Abadid Heldid, a LDDH member arrested on February 5, were brought before the Public Prosecutor and accused of “participating in an insurgency movement”, in connection with their supposed support for the students’ movement and the demonstrations that started in December 2010, which had been violently put down. During the month of December 2010, Mr. Jean-Paul Noël Abdi had denounced the repression by the Djibouti authorities against the demonstrations [3]. On February 9, 2011, Mr. Jean-Paul Noël Abdi was released temporarily for reasons of health [4]. Mr. Farah Abadid Heldid (still detained) and Mr. Noël Abdi are liable to up to fifteen years’ imprisonment and a fine of 7,000,000 Djibouti Francs (approx. 27,404 Euros).

The safety of human rights defenders is in an alarming situation

On the continent, murders and other attacks on human rights defenders’ right to life and physical integrity are still a major problem, particularly since they generally remain unpunished. The lack of independence of some national judiciary systems prevents victims and the human rights organisations that represent them from obtaining justice and breaking the cycle of violence, so encouraging new acts of violence to be committed.

Impunity for acts of violence against human rights defenders

The various investigations that are under way in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and in Burundi following the murder of human rights defenders have not always permitted the full chain of criminal responsibility to be established.

In DRC, the trial for the murders on June 1, 2010 of Mr. Floribert Chebeya Bazire and Mr. Fidèle Bazana, respectively President and member of Voice of the Voiceless (Voix des sans voix - VSV), opened on November 12, 2010 before the Kinshasa-Gombe Military Court. Despite numerous appeals made by the Congolese civil society and the international community, the trial opened although the investigation does not seem to have been carried out in conditions likely to guarantee its independence and impartiality. Furthermore, despite the arrest of several police officers, the main suspect, John Numbi Tambo, Inspector General of the national police, was not charged and appeared as a simple witness. In addition, since the death and disappearance of the two defenders, their families have been victims of intimidation and put under considerable pressure. Messrs. Chebeya and Bazana are included in a long list of defenders who have died, have been threatened, harassed, arrested and pursued in recent years because of their human rights activities. Impunity for the authors of these crimes continues and feeds the cycle of violence against them.

In Burundi, the basis of the case relating to the murder, during the night of April 8 - 9, 2009, of Mr. Ernest Manirumva, Vice-President of the Anti-Corruption and Economic Malpractice Observatory (Observatoire de lutte contre la corruption et les malversations économiques - OLUCOME), has still not been examined, two years after the facts and in spite of constant pressure from the Burundi civil society and the international community. Several of the people involved in planning and/or carrying out the operation that led to the murder of Mr. Ernest Manirumva have never been questioned or troubled in spite of testimony or evidence linking them to the case. During the months preceding his murder, Mr. Ernest Manirumva was investigating a case related to trafficking within the army and the national police. His murder appeared to be directly linked to his investigation into this case, and it is to be feared that the political implications of the case may have impeded the judicial proceedings. It is in this context that acts of harassment and death threats against human rights defenders who fight against impunity are on the increase in the country, especially against the President OLUCOME Mr. Gabriel Rufyiri and his family, and also against Mr. Claver Irambona, a member of OLUCOME. Additionally, on April 8, 2011, two years after the murder of Ernest Manirumva, a police column stopped a peaceful march organised in Bujumbura by the Burundian NGOs, in the framework of a campaign calling for light to be shed on the exact circumstances of this murder and for those responsible to be prosecuted and tried. Messrs. Gabriel Rufyiri and Claver Irambona were arrested and held at the Special Bureau of Investigation before being unconditionally released a few hours later.

In Uganda, the community of human rights defenders was in mourning following the murder of one of its prominent members. On January 26, 2011, Mr. David Kato, who was responsible for advocacy within the organisation Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), was beaten to death at his home near Kampala by an unidentified man. Mr. David Kato succumbed to his injuries while he was being transferred to Kawolo hospital. A suspect was arrested on February 17, 2011 and the Observatory hopes that the investigation will be able to establish the responsibilities of those who have encouraged acts of violence to be committed against defenders working on LGBT rights. Mr. David Kato had received death threats following the publication in 2010 in the Rolling Stone newspaper of the photos, names and addresses of several people who were presented as homosexuals. The photo of Mr. David Kato appeared on the first page of one of the editions, under the headline “Hang them!”. After he filed a complaint, on December 30, 2010, the Supreme Court ordered the newspaper to stop publishing the photos as such publication constituted an attack on the right to privacy. Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda and is punishable by a maximum fourteen-year prison sentence. In October 2009, a Member of Parliament presented a draft anti-homosexuality law to make the crime of homosexuality punishable by life imprisonment and by capital punishment in the case of a second offence. Despite being condemned by the civil society, this draft law may come under discussion again in the coming months.

In The Gambia, the absence of any investigation into the murder of the journalist Deyda Hydara in 2004, the enforced disappearance of the journalist Ebrima Manneh since 2006 and the threats made against human rights defenders by the President of the Republic in September 2009 prevent the constitution of an independent civil society by maintaining a climate of fear amongst the community of human rights defenders.

Threats against defenders working on economic, social and cultural rights and on sexual minorities

On March 10, 2011, during a press conference organised by the Congo Business Federation (Fédération des Entreprises du Congo - FEC) in Goma, the organisers and the city Mayor publicly threatened Ms. Justine Masika Bihamba, Coordinator of the Association of Women for the Victims of Sexual Violence (Synergie des Femmes pour les Victimes des Violences Sexuelles - SFVS). On the same day, two unknown persons waited for her daughter in front of her home and snatched her passport and digital camera from her, then ran away. On March 14, 2011, a Senator from North Kivu province also publicly attacked Ms. Masika Bihamba and the SFVS. These threats occurred after SFVS sent a letter dated March 7, 2011 addressed to the United States Secretary of State, Ms. Hillary Clinton, asking the American State Department to support the application of a law requiring oil, gas and mining companies to inform the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) when they obtained cassiterite, coltan, wolframite and gold from DRC or a neighbouring country. Furthermore, on December 27, 2010, a military audit magistrate from Goma called Ms. Masika Bihamba and notified her that he had received the order to arrest her after she appeared in the TV5 television programme “What if you told me the whole truth” (“Et si vous me disiez toute la vérité”) on November 28, 2010, during which she spoke about the general human rights situation in North Kivu, impunity, cases of sexual violence and the human rights violations perpetrated by General Bosco Ntaganda, who is the subject of an international arrest warrant for war crimes issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In Cameroon, defenders of the rights of sexual minorities, of the right to choose gender identity and sexual orientation and defenders who fight against HIV/AIDS infection work in an environment of latent hostility that is encouraged by the authorities’ statements. Since December 22, 2010, the Association for the Defence of Homosexuality (Association de défense de l’homosexualité - ADEFHO), the Collective of Families of Homosexual Children (Collectif des families d’enfants homosexuels - COFENHO) and Teenagers against Aids (Adolescents contre le Sida - Sid’ado) receive e-mail death threats on an almost daily basis. Ms. Alice Nkom, President of ADEFHO and a human rights lawyer, is regularly threatened with death or rape.

Stigmatisation and threats against human rights defenders who contact international human rights protection bodies

In Malawi, on February 23, 2011, the President of the Republic of Malawi invited representatives of civil society organisations for his announcement that he would mobilise members of his political party in order to put an end to any civil society demonstration criticising him or his government. After this incident, human rights defenders including Mr. Undule Mwakasungula, Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and President of the Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), were subjected to telephone threats. On March 6, 2011, the President of the Republic of Malawi organised a public assembly which was broadcast on national radio and television channels, during which he called on his party activists to fight and crush all those opposed to his ideas or who criticise the Malawi Government on issues concerning human rights, democracy and governance. On March 16, 2011, Mr. Levi Mvula, CHRR programme manager, and Mr. Gift Trapence, Executive Director of the Centre for Development of People (CEDEP), spoke on questions of governance and human rights violations in Malawi, during the 16th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. After their contribution, the President of the Republic of Malawi expressed his disapproval of these communications and declared that a group of 50 people was “wandering around” Europe claiming that there are human rights violations in Malawi and the NGOs were working against the national interest. He also targeted Mr. Undule Mwakasungula, referring to him as leader of the civil society and accusing him of lying to the funding bodies on the human rights situation and governance in Malawi. On the same day, Mr. Undule Mwakasungula received two anonymous telephone calls during which he was accused, amongst other things, of tarnishing the Government’s image and undermining the work of the President, and that, if he was not careful, he would be butchered. Mr. Mwakasungula filed a complaint.

Threats and acts of intimidation against defenders in the context of approaching elections

In DRC, on February 1st and 2nd, 2011, Mr. Jean Claude Katende, National President of the African Association for the Defence of Human Rights (Association africaine de défense des droits de l’Homme - ASADHO), received telephone death threats. On February 2, 2011, Mr. Georges Kapiamba, National Vice President of ASADHO, was warned and threatened with reprisals if he continued his human rights activities. These threats came after a press conference organised by ASADHO to denounce the revision of the Constitution adopted by the Congolese Parliament and the political intolerance fostered against political opponents by the Government in advance of the presidential elections due to take place at the end of 2011. In addition, following the ASADHO press conference, the Minister of Communication, Mr. Lambert Mendé, stated that ASADHO was an organisation in the pay of foreign powers that wanted to destabilise the country.

In Zimbabwe, threats and acts of intimidation against human rights defenders and especially citizens’ groups who work towards a free election process occur in an increasingly tense political climate in the run up to the referendum on the Constitution and the parliamentary elections planned in 2011. On March 18, 2011, thirteen human rights defenders, including Messrs. Admire Munava, Bamusi Kasembe and his assistant, known by the name of Tongai, all members of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZIMRIGHTS), and Mr. Dzikamai Bere, a member of Forum and of ZIMRIGHTS, were stopped at a roadblock by members of the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). The ZANU-PF activists, armed with stone and wooden sticks, questioned them about their activities and threatened some of them. The group managed to escape. The team of defenders were carrying out a satisfaction survey in the Mashonal and East province on the national reconciliation process undertaken after the political violence that followed the presidential elections in 2008.

In Egypt, on March 19, 2011, the lawyer Ms. Ragia Omran was arrested while she was monitoring the referendum on the constitutional amendments at a polling station in South Cairo, accompanied by her sister and an American journalist. She had received an official monitoring permit from the Supreme Judicial Committee in charge of supervising the referendum. A few minutes after she entered the polling station, a senior army officer tried to make her leave the premises. The judge in charge of supervising the polling station approached her and advised her to leave the premises and a lieutenant threatened to hand her over to the military intelligence if she did not obey. As they left the polling station, one of the army officers insulted the two sisters, accusing them of being traitors and acting against the national interest. A group of at least six army members then violently assaulted them before arresting them and taking them to the Cairo Security Directorate for interrogation. Their identity papers and all their personal belongings were confiscated. Ms. Ragia Omran and her sister were released during the night of March 19 – 20, 2011 for lack of evidence. Ms Ragia Omran currently appears to be charged with “insulting a military officer”.

In Côte d’Ivoire, in the extremely polarised context of the electoral dispute over the 2010 presidential election, defenders who documented the election results and the violence that has occurred since the beginning of 2011 have been the target of threats and intimidation. Several members of the Ivorian Civil Society Convention (Convention de la civil society ivoirienne - CSCI), the Civil Society Coalition for Peace and the Development of Democracy in Côte d’Ivoire (Coalition de la société civile pour la paix et le développement démocratique en Côte d’Ivoire), a coalition of Ivorian organisations that monitored the elections, and Amnesty International Côte d’Ivoire, had to leave the country at the beginning of 2011 for fear of reprisals. In addition, several members of the Ivorian Human Rights League (Ligue ivoirienne des droits de l’Homme - LIDHO) and the Ivorian Human Rights Movement (Mouvement ivoirien des droits mumains - MIDH) had reportedly to go into hiding because several of them were mentioned in the lists of people to be killed or arrested that supporters of the outgoing President claimed had been drawn up.

Criminalisation of the activities of human rights defenders: arbitrary detention and judicial harassment

Defenders who fight against modern slavery in Mauritania are in the line of fire

On December 13, 2010, Mr. Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid, President of the Initiative for Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement in Mauritania (Initiative de résurgence du mouvement abolitionniste en Mauritanie - IRA) and a representative of SOS-Slavery (SOS-Esclaves), was attacked and placed in custody while he was making enquiries into a case of slavery. On December 13, 2010, after Mr. Ould Dah had notified the case of slavery, the Prefect of the district of Arafat, a suburb of Nouakchott, ordered the police to go with Mr. Ould Dah and find the two victims and their “mistress” and take them to Arafat police station. A lively altercation resulted after the Prefect refused to allow Mr. Ould Dah to accompany the two victims while they were being questioned and Mr. Ould Dah was thrown out of the police station and beaten with clubs. Mr. Ould Dah was injured and taken to hospital. Around thirty IRA sympathisers, who had gathered in front of the police station in support of Mr. Ould Dah’s act of denunciation, were also dispersed with tear gas grenades. When he came out of hospital, Mr. Ould Dah was placed in custody at Arafat police station, as were Messrs. Dah Ould Boushab, Mouloud Ould Boubi, Ali Ould Boubarak Fall, Sheikh Ould Abidin Ould Salem and Bala Touré, all IRA members. Neither the lawyer nor the family of Mr. Ould Dah were allowed to visit him. The six defenders were subsequently accused of “membership of an unauthorised organisation”, “assault and battery” and “unlawful assembly” and held at Nouakchott prison. On January 6, 2011, Messrs. Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid, Ali Ould Boubarak Fall and Sheikh Ould Abidin Ould Salem were sentenced to one year in prison with six months’ suspended sentence and a fine of 500,000 Ouguiyas (around 1,366 Euros). Messrs. Mouloud Ould Boubi and Bala Touré were given a six months’ suspended prison sentence and a fine of 100,000 Ouguiyas (around 267 Euros), and Mr. Dah Ould Boushab received a six months’ suspended prison sentence and a fine of 10,000 Ouguiyas (around 27 Euros). On January 9, 2011, the defence lawyers appealed against the decision. On February 15, 2011, after a Presidential pardon, the six defenders were given reduced sentences on the occasion of Aïd el-Maouloud.

Continued criminalisation of the work of human rights defenders in Sudan

In Sudan, thirteen defenders from the Darfur region were arrested by NISS in Khartoum between October 30 and November 3, 2010. Amongst these were Mr. Abdelrahman Mohamed Al Gasim, training and legal aid coordinator at the Darfur Bar, Messrs. Abdelrahman Adam Abdelrahman and Dirar Adam Dirar, respectively Assistant Director and Finance and Administration Officer of the HAND network, a coalition of nine organisations established in Darfur that publish weekly reports on the human rights situation in the region, and several other members of the HAND network and of Radio Dabanga, including Mr. Manal Mohamed Ahmed, Ms. Aisha Sardo Sharif, Ms. Kuwather Abdelhag Mohamed and Ms Aziza Ali Edris, Messrs. Abu Ghassim El Din, Zacharia Yacoub, Ibrahim Adam, and Khalid Ishag Mohamed Yosuf. All of them were released between January 13 and 23, 2011, with the exception of Messrs. Jaafar Alsabki Ibrahim and Mr. Abdelrahman Adam Abdelrahman, who remain detained. No one has currently been charged.

On December 14, 2010, Mr. Abdul Basit Margani was arrested by NISS after hosting a meeting in his role as Director of the psychosocial aid centre Al Finar. Mr. Abdul Basit Margani remained in secret detention until his release on December 20, 2010. In addition, the former Director of the Sudan Social Development Organisation (SUDO), Dr. Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, was sentenced on December 22, 2010 to one year in prison and a fine of 3,000 Sudanese Dinars (9.40 Euros) for embezzlement. He had previously been acquitted of this charge in March 2009, after Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) closed the SUDO offices. HAC had called against the acquittal of Dr. Adam, but had not presented any new evidence. The latter had immediately been jailed in Kober prison, and then transferred to Soba prison the next day. He was released on July 25, 2010 but his sentence has not been quashed.

Expulsion and refoulement of defenders

In Uganda, on April 13, 2011, Messrs. Samwel Mohochi, the Administrator of the Kenya National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders and a member of the OMCT General Assembly, Hussain Khalid, a member of Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI), Muhdhar Khitamy, President of the Coast Province branch of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM), and Hassan Omar Hassan, a member of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR), were arrested by immigration officers when they arrived at Entebbe airport and sent back to Kenya after being given a note from the Ugandan Government referring to them as “unauthorised immigrants”. The four defenders were due to meet the President of the Ugandan Supreme Court to discuss the case of Mr. Al-Amin Kimathi, Executive Director of the Kenyan Muslims Human Rights Forum (MHRF), arrested in Uganda on September 15, 2010 and still held in Luzira maximum security prison [5].


1) In view of the persistence of human rights violations committed against human rights defenders in the States parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Observatory calls on the States to:

· Guarantee under all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of all human rights defenders and their families;

· Release human rights defenders arbitrarily detained and put an end to the judicial harassment to which they are subjected;

· Take all necessary measures to put an end to all forms of repression against human rights defenders and their organisations, regardless of whether the authors are State or non-State actors, in accordance with their obligation to respect and protect the rights of defenders;

· Establish national mechanisms for the protection of human rights defenders, in cooperation with the defenders and the ACHPR Special Rapporteur on the situation of defenders in Africa;

· Guarantee for human rights defenders the rights and freedoms recognised in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 9, 1998;

· Recognise the essential role of human rights defenders in the implementation of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights instruments, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, as well as in the prevention of conflicts, and the implementation of the rule of law and democracy;

· Conform to the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, specifically Article 1 which provides that “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels” and Article 12.2 which provides that “The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

· Conform to the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, of the Protocol of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights related to women’s’ rights, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the provisions set out in international human rights instruments to which they are party;

· Facilitate the mandate of the ACHPR Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders in Africa, in particular by extending to her a standing invitation enabling her to pay official visits to their countries, and by putting sufficient financial and human resources at her disposal in order that she may successfully fulfil her mandate;

· Facilitate the mandate of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, in particular by extending to her a standing invitation enabling her to pay official visits to the State parties.

2) The Observatory also calls on the ACHPR Special Rapporteur on the situation of defenders in Africa to:

· Continue to fully implement her mandate, with the aim of protecting human rights defenders and the independent civil society and of promoting their activities;

· Introduce an early warning system in order to prevent violations against defenders, taking into consideration situations in which there is a danger of violence escalating, such as a context of social protest, elections, political crises and internal armed conflicts;

· Offer technical assistance to States parties for the establishment of national mechanisms for the protection of human rights defenders;

· Communicate more extensively on cases of defenders who are harassed and attacked, in particular through press releases and public statements;

· Call on the States parties to take all necessary steps to combat the impunity enjoyed by authors of assassinations of human rights defenders;

· Publish the report on the implementation of her mandate;

· Contribute to the finalisation of the ACHPR study on the laws and practices relating to the freedom of association, as specified in Resolution ACHPR/Res.151(XLVI)09, in particular by consulting defenders and human rights organisations.

3) The Observatory also calls on the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to:

· Systematically raise the question of the situation of human rights defenders during the examination of the periodical reports of the States parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and on the occasion of all visits to a State party;

· Ascertain the effective implementation of its concluding observations in order that all, including human rights defenders, should effectively enjoy all the rights and freedoms recognised by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;

· Guarantee, when applications for observer status to the ACHPR are examined, that all NGOs are treated fairly, including NGOs working on sexual minorities and LGBT rights, in accordance with the 1999 criteria for granting and enjoying observer status with ACHPR, and with the right of non-discrimination in the enjoyment of the rights defined by the Charter as set out in Article 1.

· Call on the States parties to take all necessary steps, including of a legislative and administrative nature, in order to respect and protect the rights of all human rights defenders in all circumstances;

· Call on the States parties to prevent human rights violations against defenders and make them cease, by investigating all violations and by prosecuting the authors, whoever they may be;

· Increase the means at the disposal of the ACHPR Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, in order to help her to continue her actions for the promotion and protection of defenders in Africa;

· Continue and deepen the collaboration with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, as well as with the other regional mechanisms for the protection of human rights defenders.

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