Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in Africa

The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, a legally binding instrument adopted on June 27, 1981 and which entered into force on October 21, 2009, after ratification by 53 countries, does not specifically mention the protection of defenders, but protects fundamental freedoms such as freedoms of speech, opinion, association, assembly, etc. as well as fundamental rights such as the right to life, protection against arbitrary arrest and detention and the right to a fair trial.

The African Charter provides for the creation of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) (Article 30), which is a mechanism of monitoring of the implementation of the Charter by State parties.

The ACHPR, which has a mandate of promotion and protection of human rights on the African continent, holds two sessions per year to examine country reports and communications on human rights violations brought to its attention.

Since a couple of years, the ACHPR has adopted specific resolutions on the protection of defenders in Africa, which confirm the protection of their rights in application of the Charter. Certain resolutions adopted by the ACHPR refer explicitly to the rights of human rights defenders:
- ACHPR /Res.69(XXXV)04: Resolution on the protection of human rights defenders in Africa
- ACHPR(XXXXI)06: Resolution on the situation of human rights defenders in Africa
- ACHPR /Res.119 (XXXXII)07: Resolution on the situation of human rights defenders in Africa
- ACHPR/Res.54(XXIX)01: Resolution on the situation of human rights defenders in Tunisia
- ACHPR /Res.134(XXXXIIII)08: Resolution on the situation of human rights defenders in the Republic of Gambia
- ACHPR/Res.139(XXXXIIII)08: Resolution on the situation of human rights defenders in the Democratic Republic of Congo
- ACHPR /Res.132(XXXXIII)08: Resolution on the upcoming elections in Zimbabwe.

The 1999 Grand Bay (Mauritius) Declaration and Plan of Action, a legally non-binding instrument, calls upon the Members States of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) “to take appropriate steps to implement the United Nations Declaration on Defenders in Africa”.

The Kigali (Rwanda) Declaration of May 8, 2003, a legally non-binding instrument, “recognizes the important role of civil society organizations (CSOs) in general and human rights defenders in particular, in the promotion and protection of human rights in Africa” and “calls upon Member States and regional institutions to protect them and encourage the participation of CSOs in decision-making processes [...]”.

A specific mandate: the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in Africa:

In 2004, the Special Rapporteur mandate on the protection of defenders was created within the ACPHR. The mandate is defined by ACPHR Resolution 69(XXXV)04, adopted in 2004 in Banjul, The Gambia. Through this mandate, the Commission examines, reports and acts upon information concerning the situation of defenders in the continent. The Special Rapporteur mandate was renewed on the occasion of the 38th (November 21 to December 5, 2005), 42nd (December 15 to 28, 2007) and 46th (November 11 to 25, 2009) ACPHR sessions. The current Special Rapporteur, Mr. Mohamed Bechir Khalfallah, succeded Commissioner Reine Alapini-Gansou (Benin) in 2009.

The Rapporteur has the following mandate:

- to seek, receive, examine and to act upon information on the situation of human rights defenders in Africa;
- to submit reports on the situation of defenders in Africa at every Ordinary Session of the African Commission;
- to cooperate and engage in dialogue with Member States, National Human Rights Institutions, relevant intergovernmental bodies, international and regional mechanisms of protection of human rights defenders, human rights defenders and other stake holders;
- to develop and recommend effective strategies to better protect human rights defenders and to follow up on his/her recommendations;
- to raise awareness and promote the implementation of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in Africa.

In addition, in 2007, the Special Rapporteur started publishing The Rapporteur’s Newsletter, a biannual bulletin informing defenders about the Special Rapporteur’s activities and addressing thematic issues of relevance for defenders in Africa.

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