25 October 2018
Madame Chairperson, Commissioners,
POWA makes this statement on behalf of the Coalition of African Lesbians. At the 61st Ordinary Session of the ACHPR, CAL made reference to the specific rights violations and protection gaps experienced by women human rights defenders. CAL cited the groundbreaking report of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, which speaks to the particularly precarious conditions faced by WHRDs, who are targeted because of their gender in addition to their human rights activities. CAL urged the ACHPR to take note of the 20th anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
The ACHPR has formally included this urgent issue on the agenda of the 63rd session by organising panels focussing on HRDs, and WHRDs in particular. However, in light of parallel actions, as detailed below, these alone are insufficient and fall short of a true commitment to safeguarding HRDs and CSO space.
Since the last session, the ACHPR — acting on the instruction of member states and thereby ceding its independence and seriously undermining its credibility — has taken the decision to withdraw CAL’s observer status despite the fact that CAL is the sole organisation representing the rights and interests of some of the most vulnerable HRDs in several parts of Africa. It only provided a single sentence to explain the withdrawal — that it was based on the AU Executive Council’s decision.
CAL has complied with the criteria for both obtaining and retaining observer status. The organisation has actively participated in and contributed to the work of the ACHPR by providing a unique feminist perspective on a range of issues, specifically on the sexual rights violations experienced by women in Africa. By folding under the pressure from member states, the ACHPR has failed in its mission of protection and promotion of the rights of HRDs, including and particularly WHRDs. The interference of states in the ACHPR’s accreditation process also threatens the equitable participation of CSOs.
There are multiple implications of the withdrawal of CAL’s observer status. In addition to denying the rights of freedom of expression and association of CAL’s membership, the ACHPR is also ceding to a worldview that conceives African values as patriarchal, static, exclusive and defined by those in power. In consequence, the voices not only of black African feminists but also of other African revolutionaries are being silenced. The founders of pan-Africanism envisioned an Africa without colonially imposed borders, and a diverse and pluralist Africa in which the rights of all are respected.
We call on the Commissioners of the ACHPR to reflect deeply on the purpose and mandate of the ACHPR. We call on you to decide whether you will stand on the side of rights holders and defenders or whether you will choose the side of states, irrespective of whether these states are violating human rights. The silencing and sidelining of women was a key strategy of colonial aggression, and one that has continued to be utilised by several independent African states. History and future generations will be a harsh judge if our leaders, decision-makers and rights defenders refuse to take a stand in defence of women’s rights and in defence of an independent human rights system.