What: A side event on the margins of the 73rd Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Date: 19 October 2022
Venue: Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara Conference Centre
Post COVID-19, Conflict, Coups & Closed Spaces
Background & Justification:
The first COVID-19 case in Africa was confirmed in Nigeria in late February 2020 and soon thereafter, cases spread across the continent, which holds 55 states, all inflicted with a disease that was highly infectious and contagious. It was estimated that over 10 million people died due to COVID-19 complications in Africa. The continent followed through with lockdowns, as spaces shrunk, political reforms halted or were reversed, economies and growth contracted, debt ballooned to unmanageable levels, corruption rose in many countries and rift between the government and governed also widened. ACCORD’s ‘Conflict and Resilience Monitor’ observed that: ‘longer-term impact on peace and security in Africa is hard to predict at this stage. In the short- to medium-term the COVID-19 pandemic added significant additional layers of stress to governance systems that have been already under pressure from existing conflicts, violent extremism, significant refugee and IDP populations, migration, organized crime and climate-related security risks. In some cases, social frustrations related to especially the economic and livelihood effects of the lockdown measures introduced to contain the spread of COVID-19 have resulted in protests and social unrest. In a few others, such as seems to have been the case in Cameroon, COVID-19 have created opportunities for cease-fire or peace agreement negotiations.1’
The correlation to COVID-19 and its effective consequences leading to conflict is therefore too early to corelate. However, what is plausible, is the fact that under the disguise of fighting the pandemic despotism has risen, and democracy as regressed in many AU member states.
In the early stages of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Jeggan Grey-Johnson, of the Open Society-Africa, observed that: ‘the political temperature in many countries points to growing anger and impatience, long before lockdowns became the ‘coping mechanism’ of the elites and rapacious regimes. Resistance to state and military overreach may well backfire in countries already dealing with poor governance. How will the African Union and the regional economic communities deal with the fall-out as some regimes use the pandemic to crack down on legitimate protest against their political and economic failures?’2
The question would not take long to obtain an answer, since within a year of the article being published, many AU member states had either revised their constitutions, expunging term limits from them, or engaged in constitutional tampering, which guaranteed term elongation. In ECOWAS, three countries- Togo, Cote d’Ivoire, and Senegal resisted a regional amendment to the Supplementary protocol on Good Governance and Democracy, which would have required member states to introduce and respect term limits in their constitutions. In the Eastern region, Ethiopia and Eritrea have no term limits, and South Sudan is yet to hold elections, amidst political factionalism and violent rivalries. In Southern Africa, Malawi tried to delay elections, which had to be re-run, and when they took place, after months of protests, a change through the ballot was successfully registered. Nevertheless, the region still hosts the only absolute monarch, Eswatini, where prospects for democratization seem a far flung ideal.
The civic space has also shrunk over the period, with a raft of laws aimed and silencing critics mushroomed across the continent. Freedom House observed that: ‘opposition figures faced increased obstacles as governments deployed a slew of new “antiterrorist” measures that effectively suppressed dissent.’3 It cited Ethiopia’s a state of emergency laws which it said granted broad powers to the security forces, to arbitrarily detain suspects collaborating with ‘terrorist groups’. And stated that: ‘Members of the ethnic Tigrayan minority, whose home regions at the center of the country’s ongoing civil conflict, were often targeted.’ Other countries with a poor record of opening up the civic space included Benin, Tanzania, Senegal, Algeria, and Egypt. At least 10 AU member states also faced internet shutdowns during the period, including some of the afore mentioned countries, as well as Uganda ahead of its general elections in 2021, and Sudan during the protected pro-democracy demonstrations against the military junta, which is still ongoing.
The Institute for Security Studies observed that military coups are making a comeback in Africa. It documented the trend over the last several decades and stated that, ‘after the Lomé Declaration, the incidence of coups steadily declined from 15 in the previous decade (1991 to 2000) to eight in the decade after, and five between 2011 and 2020.’4 West Africa hosts three military regimes (Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Mali), and both Central (Chad) and Eastern Africa (the Horn) (Sudan) host one each. These countries all succumbed to the barrel of the gun in a space of 24 months. These signs of instability have had a direct impact on the overall peace and security of the respective regions, albeit in varying degrees. Although the military regimes in the respective countries have largely managed to hold onto power and command states that aren’t necessarily at war, their fragility and vulnerability to threats of terrorism, and other actors of aggression remain a major threat. Conflict is always not too far away. In Ethiopia, which is still at war in the Tigray region, like many other AU member states although not at war, but political tensions remain high, the overarching phenomena of rights violations remain firmly entrenched. In each example listed, the most vulnerable have been human rights defenders (be they politicians, artists, faith based or traditional leaders, media, students).
CIVICUS issued a statement at the 71st Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. It urged the continental human rights body to amongst other things, ‘respond to cases of shrinking civic space in Africa, wherever and whenever they happen.’5 It is also in this context that Open Society-Africa, the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights, and The African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS) are organizing a discussion on these issues, to allow for proper discourse about the perennial challenges and attendant obstacles to the advancement of human rights, and sound democratic practice that African citizenry faces, post COVID-19. The rhetoric of building back better, together, must transcend economic rights but also include political rights and other fundamental freedoms as espoused in the plethora of AU mechanisms, and vision of our shared values.
To bring to the attention of the ACHPR, its Commissioners and the AU, about the AU member states that are on the brink of instability and conflict, where rights violations are prevalent and need to be addressed; and if not urgently resolved may reverberate across their respective regions further escalating and or worsening the situation.
To build African citizenry solidarity in those respective countries, and support HRDs that are under threat and amplify their voices and requests for their rights to be respected; and constitutional order, as enshrined in various normative frameworks committed by respective AU member states be implemented.
To mark the 35th Anniversary of the Commission with a clear and united voice in reaffirming our commitment to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the Democracy Charter, which is 10 years old since coming into force, and the anniversary of the AU at 20.
To revitalize our partnerships in a post COVID world, between African citizens, and between Pan African Institutions mandated to elevate and better the lives of Africans, through their respective mandates to deliver on the promises of our shared values – to strengthening human rights, good governance, transparency, accountability and popular participation on the African continent.
The African Commission on Human And Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR)– The African Charter established the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Commission was inaugurated on 2 November 1987 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Commission’s Secretariat has subsequently been located in Banjul, The Gambia. In addition to performing any other tasks, which may be entrusted to it by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government, the Commission is officially charged with three major functions: the protection of human and peoples’ rights; the promotion of human and peoples’ rights; the interpretation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Commission consists of 11 members elected by the AU Assembly from experts nominated by the State Parties to the Charter. Their mandates are for six years, renewable. The Commission will host the 73rd Ordinary Session.
The African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)– The African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS) is independent, non-profit regional human rights NGO based in Banjul, The Gambia. It was set up in 1989 by an Act of Parliament of the Republic of The Gambia. However, 1995, the African Centre was re-launched, thereby repealing the Act, and thus making the Centre a truly independent, autonomous and pan-African NGO. The Center will host the CSO Forum on the margins of the 73rd Ordinary Session of the Commission.
Open Society–Africa- is a regional entity of the Open Society Foundations’ and aims to deepen people- centered democracy, accountable governance and inclusive development in Africa through strategic grantmaking, convening power, investment in African knowledge production and people centeredadvocacy, focused on promoting open societies, accountable governance, human rights, sustainable development and just climate transitions in Africa.
|Tuesday 19, October 2022||VENUE: OIC Conference Centre|
|08H30 Coffee and Registration 09H00 Welcome Remarks by organizers||ACHPR, Commissioner Hannah Forster ACDHRS, Executive Director Open Society-Africa, George Kegoro, Director of Policy and Engagement|
|09H30 SESSION ONE CONFLICT Cameroon: Presenter – Felix Nkongho, REDHAC Réseau de Défenseurs des Droits Humains de l’Afrique CentraleEthiopia: Presenter- tbc 10H30 Discussions Floor Opens||Chairperson: ACHPR About this session:|
|11H30 SESSION TWO CLOSED SPACES Eswatini: Presenter -Thulani Rudolf Maseko, MSF EswatiniTunisia: Presenter – tbc 12H30 Discussions Floor Opens||Chairperson: ACDHRS About this session:|