Another 1st for the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

SOGI Advocacy at the 56th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights: The Coalition of African Lesbians Granted Observer Status

Accreditation Tag

56th Ordinary Session of the
African Commission on
Peoples’ and Human

Another 1st for the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and I was present to witness this momentous occasion.

After two postponements due to the presence of the Ebola virus in West Africa, the 56th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) was finally announced to take place in Gambia from 21 April to 7 May 2015. Originally this session was scheduled for October 2014 in Niamey (Niger). This session of the ACHPR saw progressive developments for the LGBTI community, and a number of new documents, reports and guidelines were launched.

My journey to the Gambia begin on low note with a lengthy debate with the aviation authority at O.R Tambo international airport to grant me permission to board the plane, given that my yellow fever vaccine had not elapsed the required 10 day period prior to departure but thanks my charms I managed convince the lady officer I was not a risky passenger and I was soon on my way to the African Commission in the Gambia, for those not familiar with the ACHPR, let me give crush course on the African commission.

 About the ACHPR

The ACHPR, commonly known as the “African commission” was established in 1987 within the framework of the Organisation of the African Unity (OAU), now the African Union (AU), by article 30 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter) to fulfill 4 functions: (1) the promotion of human and people’s rights, (2) the protection of human and peoples’ rights, (3) the interpretation of the African Charter and (4) any other task that may be assigned by the Assembly of Head of States and Government. The African Charter was adopted in 1981 by the OAU Assembly of Head of States and Government and came into for on the 21st October 1986 (this is why 21st October is commemorated as the African Human Rights Day). The ACHPR holds two ordinary sessions during the year, lasting around 15 days, and as many extraordinary sessions as necessary (so far two extraordinary sessions have been regularly holding more or less in February and July). At these meetings, African states compliance with the African charter and human rights situations on the continent are reviewed and reports are provided by the African commission’s special mechanisms known as the Special Rapporteurs, Working Groups or Committee. The African Commission’s headquarters are in The Gambia – Banjul. The Commission is composed of 11 commissioners nominated by States and elected by the Assembly of Head of States and Government of the AU to serve in their personal capacity for a 6-year renewable term. Honourable Commissioner Kayitesi Zainabo Sylvie, is the current Chairperson whilst Honourable Commissioner Mohamed Béchir Khalfallah, is Vice-chairperson.

 AMSHeR’s engagement at the 56th session of the ACHPR

CSO’s engagement at the African Commission starts with a three-day NGO Forum preceding the African Commission’s session. This is a space for NGOs working at the African Commission to deliberate and adopt resolutions on human rights issues affecting the continent. These resolutions are submitted to the African Commission for consideration and it has been a practical channel to get Resolutions adopted by the African Commission on a particular issue, including issues of protection from human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

AMSHeR’s work with allies and like-minded partners at the African Commission consists of advocacy through shadow reporting – including dissemination and one-on-one engagement of commissioners – capacity strengthening of new comers on the African Human Rights system, on the communication procedures and a strategy meeting to agree on a suitable approach for SOGI advocacy at the African Commission.

At the last session (56th) of the African Commission, the following countries; Djibouti, Ethiopia, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Uganda and Senegal were reviewed at this ordinary session of the commission. Shadow reports on SOGI-based human rights violations were submitted on Senegal, Malawi and Nigeria.

Civil society engagement with this commission is important in strengthening of the commission’s function as the main body mandated with human rights promotion and protection by the African Union. An example of such effectiveness was at the 55th Ordinary session of the commission in April 2014 in Luanda, Angola which saw the first of its kind for the commission; a resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity was adopted, this resolution was titled Resolution 275 on Protection against violence and other human rights violations against persons on the basis of their real or imputed sexual orientation or gender identity’. It calls on state to end acts of violence by both state and non-state actors against persons on the basis of their imputed or sexual orientation or gender identity. The same Resolution allows the Commission to gather information on, and effectively address cases of reprisals against civil society stakeholders thus allowing human rights defenders to advocate for rights of sexual minorities in enabling environments.

It is from these significant developments in Luanda that I found myself in Banjul, ahead of the session to attend the NGO forum, which brings together +-300 participants from African and international NGOs. The meeting of NGO’s (NGO forum) takes place over three days, (prior to the commission), and is held primarily in order to organize and discuss issues linked to the commission’s agenda, lobby and engage several commissioners participating, and ultimately influence the way the commission approaches the topics on the agenda. These engagements play a pivotal role in strengthening the effectiveness of the African human rights system.

AMSHeR’s objectives under the Francophone LGBTI Advocacy Initiative is to broaden the LGBTI leadership in 9 Francophone countries and to ensure visibility of SOGI issues at the ACHPR by organizing workshops and interactions with other movements aimed at building effective partnerships for monitoring and reporting SOGI-based human rights violations within the various regional economic communities represented at the African commission.

AMSHeR supported 3 participants, (informal partners), from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) and Senegal to attend the NGO Forum and the African commission’s session. Due to unforeseen logistical challenges a representative from our member organization in Malawi, which was being reviewed at this session was unable to attend.

As it is tradition for AMSHeR to co-host side events during the NGO forum this session was no different. AMSHeR in collaboration with Coalition of African Lesbians – CAL, Heartland Alliance-Global Initiative for Sexuality and Human Rights-GISHR, Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa –ISLA hosted a series of side events, these included:

–          Introduction to the African system of protection of human rights – this was an introductory training on the African Commission for newcomers. Two sessions were held in English and in French.

–          Introduction to the communications procedures of the ACHPR– this workshop’s focus was the communication procedures, the rules of admissibility  and in particular the exhaustion of domestic remedies;

–          The right to rehabilitation and redress in Africa: an analysis of challenges and opportunities for implementation.

Other side events hosted by our partners included a workshop on analysing and understanding the emerging trends of transitional justice in Africa, and women’s land and property rights under the Maputo protocol, both were particularly technical in nature, which saw me breaking away, in order to recharge, so after these workshops, I had an early lunch and took a stroll down to Senegambia Avenue, in desperate search for Wifi and something to eat that was not outside of my comfort zone. Olivia Resto was to be my 1st stop, and it tuned out to be a good choice; the staff were extremely accommodating and promptly assisted me to connect to their Wifi, although I was keen to experience new foods,  I found myself playing the cautious card and ordered a burger.

Time seemed to be standing still in the Gambia or was it my wishful thinking? Given that Gambia is two hours behind South African time I opted for the latter. I had barely started eating and my phone rang, it was my colleague Berry “Delaan where are you? We are about to start” – he was referring to a closed meeting titled Organising for SOGIE at the African Commission: Where to after the Resolution? Consultation based on the Discussion Document, a document was circulated to the invited participants prior to the meeting.

This session was convened by AMSHeR and its 3 partners and was held in order to address a way forward in order to develop a strategic coordination mechanism for individuals and organisations working on sexual orientation and gender identity [SOGI] issues within the context of the African human rights systems and to provide stakeholders with the necessary resources to increase the African LGBTI movement’s capacity for more effective advocacy on SOGI issues at regional level; which in turn would aid in strengthening the capacity of LGBTI organisations for national and sub-regional advocacy, and to further develop effective ways to consolidate, coordinate and strengthen the movement’s efforts, so as to enhance its impact at the ACHPR. This was of particular importance given that CAL had submitted an application for observer to the commission in September 2014, which was being reviewed at this session.

At the end of the NGO forum, 6 country resolutions where adopted and presented to the ACHPR for consideration, the NGO forum also made recommendations on 9 thematic issues some of which included:

  • The implementation of recommendations contained in the Commission study on the situation of Women human rights defenders in Africa;
  • The NGO community and the Commission adopting a resolution condemning the xenophobic attacks in the Republic of South Africa;
  • The Chairperson highlighting civil society organizations’ important contribution to the session and the need to strengthen their participation.

On April 24, the chairperson of the ACHPR opened the session of the Commission by inviting states to refrain from any act of reprisals against civil society actors who collaborate with the commission and began the review of applications for observer status.

CAL’s application for observer status was a lengthy public thorny debate for the commission, which saw the use of inappropriate language by Vice Chair Commissioner Khalfallah; describing the LGBTI communities as  “imported virus from the west” that sought to divide Africans, after reading article 11, 19(1) of the African Charter.  Commissioner Manirakiza had to remind the Commissioners that homosexuality was a reality and that the commission had adopted a resolution which supported the protection of the LGBTI, and that the CAL’s application cannot be deferred for further deliberation. With Commissioner Gansou threatening to walk out of the session, Commissioner Tlakula raised that the matter be put to a new public vote (they had voted in private) and the results were as follows 5 YES: Gansou, Maiga, Tlakula, Manirakiza, Mute; 3 NO: Khalfallah, Kayitesi, Fadel; 1 abstained: Kaggwa, as a result Coalition of African Lesbian was granted observer status along with 7 other NGO’s from Namibia, Tanzania, Cameroon, and Switzerland, bringing the total number of NGO’s with observer status to 485. The granting of observer status to the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL) means that CAL can now engage at the Commission as a recognized NGO and speak on behalf its members and under its own name.  Having being granted this status also contributes to the recognition of the rights of women human rights defenders and the recognition of sexuality and gender, another 1st for the commission.

In addition to the significant accomplishment of the CAL, the ACHPR also adopted the draft Protocol on the Abolition of the death Penalty in Africa and the Principles and Guidelines on Human and Peoples’ Rights while Countering Terrorism; the Human Rights situation in the Republic of Kenya in particular the right to rehabilitation for victims of torture; comments were made on the upcoming presidential elections in Burundi and the deteriorating situation of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea and finally the attacks by the terrorist group Boko Haram against a Nigerien military contingent.

The next session of the Commission will be held on the 4-18 November 2015 in Banjul.