African Commission Seeks Contributions into Study on Situation of Human Rights Defenders in Exile in Africa

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Hon.Commissioner Remy Ngoy Lumbu
Chairperson of ACHPR

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) is seeking contributions and comments to its study on the situation of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) in exile in Africa, a continent-wide analysis of the lived realities of HRDs in exile in Africa.

The report was requested by Resolution ACHPR/Res.439 (EXT.OS/XXVII) 2020 that entrusted the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and Focal Point on reprisals in Africa, to conduct a study on the situation on Human rights defenders in Exile.

Human Rights defenders (HRD) find themselves at risk of targeted persecution that includes reprisals, smear campaigns, physical attacks, arbitrary detentions, torture, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings due to their activities and this sometimes may lead them to go on exile. The increasing risk, frequency of threats and the culture of impunity for attacks against HRDs were the primary motivation for the establishment of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and Focal Point on Reprisals in Africa a decade and a half ago.

Intensifying threats and risks all too often uproot HRDs from their homes and countries. Some are internally displaced while others are pushed into exile to seek refuge and a haven. Concerned by the increase of HRDs in exile, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights mandated the Special rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and Focal Point in Africa, in March 2020 to conduct this study. It is a continent-wide analysis of the lived realities of HRDs in exile in Africa. Through interviews and consultations in all corners of the continent, the study paints a picture of the multi-layered challenges and opportunities that HRDs in exile encounter.

Exile is an extremely complex and challenging situation. Yet, one thing seems to be true: exile does not silence HRDs. Through resilience and sheer determination, HRDs have turned exile into opportunities for learning, adapting and gaining new experience. Adapting their work and organisations to their new context, they continue to play a crucial role in ensuring that human rights violations are exposed, and impunity is fought. A commendable increasing phenomenon of host HRDs providing support to exiled colleagues in a planned and systematic way is emerging and needs to be supported so that non-exiled and exiled HRDs can support and learn from each other. When they return, formerly exiled HRDs can bring newly acquired skills, experiences and networks. But they needed not to have been exiled in the first place.

Every time a HRD is pushed out of his or her community, region, country, and continent, not only does the African human rights movement lose an invaluable resource, energy, and leadership but also the community loses a protector and impunity prevails. This study reminds all stakeholders, primarily State Parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, of the critical importance of a safe and enabling environment for HRDs to work in defence of human rights.

Contributions and comments on the report will be welcome until May 12, 2022 and they should be sent by email to Estelle Nkounkou, Nkounkoue@Africa-Union.Org, and Anita Bagona Bagonaa@Africa-Union.Org.

The draft report of the study on the situation of Human Rights Defenders in exile in Africa can be downloaded at https://www.achpr.org/announcement/detail?id=139.