Since its inception in June 1989, the African Centre has worked towards the promotion of human rights and democracy on the African continent. It does this through training, advocacy, networking, action-oriented research, publications and documentation.
The ACDHRS’s Networking and Human Rights Program was created in 1992, initiated by various African NGOs which recognized the centrality of the ACDHRS as a clearing house for information and exchange on human rights in Africa. Under the Networking for Human Rights Program, the ACDHRS facilitates and coordinates the NGO Forum before the bi-annual sessions of the African Commission for Human and People’s Rights. In the most recent session of the NGO Forum held in Accra, Ghana in May 2007, over 165 representatives participated in contributing toward the agenda of the African Commission. The objective of the NGO Forum is to foster cooperation among NGOs and between NGOs and the African Commission for promoting and protecting human rights in Africa. It is one of the ACDHRS’s main advocacy tools which provides the opportunity for NGOs to learn from and exchange best practices for human rights promotion and protection in Africa.
The ACDHRS works in partnership with government institutions, civil society organizations, professionals, academics and other institutions in a bid to consolidate the existing linkages towards greater observance and respect for human rights and democratic principles in Africa.
Some successful advocacy activities include that of the ‘Gender is my Agenda’ Campaign for Gender Mainstreaming within the African Union as well as the Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR) coalition which advocates for the universal ratification, domestication and implementation of the African Women’s Protocol. This protocol includes particularly strong protections in the field of sexual and reproductive rights and contains the first explicit prohibition of female genital mutilation in international law. To date, 22 out of 53 African states have ratified the Protocol since the launching of the SOAWR campaign in January, 2005. The Protocol entered into force on November 25, 2005 after the fifteenth ratification.
Another pioneering initiative is the African Transformative Justice Project which promotes the use of traditional conflict resolution techniques in The Gambia. Trained mediators from local communities are encouraged to take charge of ensuring peace and work together with other stakeholders to minimize conflicts at the local level.
The bulk of ACDHRS’s work involves the design and organization of various courses on international and regional human rights procedures for the promotion and protection of human rights in Africa; on the rights of women in Africa; human rights information and documentation handling techniques; NGO management. Each of these various courses is geared towards specific groups – the police; magistrates; prison officers; and other professional groups. To date, the ACDHRS has established four (4) such training centers in The Gambia and is currently undertaking the needs assessment for the establishment of two (2) additional centers.
The ACDHRS has also developed training material and curricula as well as implemented training for different stakeholders. In 2001, UNESCO commissioned the African Center to organize training workshops on the topic of human rights education in Liberia. The objective of the workshops was to train educators in human rights and peace education techniques as a means of instilling a culture of tolerance and peace and thereby support the maintenance of peace in the country. The workshops were highly regarded and participants praised the ACDHRS for making human rights doctrines accessible and actionable in their everyday lives. The African Center has presently signed an agreement to implement a UNDEF project in The Gambia.
The African Center houses an operational and well-stocked Documentation Centre with a wide range of materials in the area of human rights and democracy. While the Documentation Centre it is primarily conceived to support ACDHRS programs, it is open as a reference collection to the public and other interested parties. The African Center is also building a collection of both audio and visual materials to compliment paper documentation. The ACDHRS publishes the quarterly African Human Rights Newsletter as well as other research documents and reports.
The ACDHRS also serves on a number of Boards and provides technical assistance to regional NGOs, particularly in the area of capacity building.