For the seventh time since the inception of the AU-EU CSO Seminar on Human Rights in 2011, Civil Societies Organisations (CSOs) from Europe and Africa gathered in Banjul, The Gambia, on October 28 and 29, 2017 to discuss human rights issues affecting both continents with a view to presenting recommendations to the African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU). This year’s event, the seventh AU-EU CSOs Seminar on Human Rights focused on the fight against torture and ill-treatment as well as redress mechanism for victims in both continents and intercontinentally.
Hosted by the AU and funded by the EU under the leadership of the Joint AU-EU Civil Society Steering Committee on Human Rights and Democratic Governance, over 50 representatives of the civil society from Europe and Africa attended the seminar.
In his opening remark, Co-Chair of the AU-EU Civil Society Steering Committee and Secretary General of the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), Mr Omar Faruk Osman, conceived torture and ill-treatment as cross-cutting issues in all human rights work, whether it’s the shrinking space for civil society, or freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association, rights of women, minorities, protection of human rights defenders, enforced disappearances or rights of refugees and migrants.
Mr Umar said: “It is either we play politics with the rights of the people or we objectively stand up for the principle of human rights. Torture and ill-treatment are a reality on both continents and are committed in a range of contexts, including in the fight against terrorism, general policing, detention, as well as during armed conflict, including in my own country, Somalia.”
He also spoke about the shrinking space of civil society in Africa as attacks on independent civil society organisations are mounting with the enactment and implementations of undemocratic laws and arbitrary policies. “When journalists who are supposed to tell the plight of victims of torture are themselves tortured and face other forms of cruel treatments, how can we expose these brutal and inhuman actions that are prevalent in our communities” Mr Osman queried.
Advocate Faith Pansy Tlakula, Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) addressed the seminar to lend her support to the CSOs fighting for the protection and promotion of human rights in Africa. Advocate Tlakula bemoaned the campaign to stigmatize and de-legitimize independent civil society community in Africa which she said is a disturbing trend for the African Commission.
Representatives of CSOs from the two continents discussed key challenges in the fight against torture on the African and European continents, in AU-EU partnership and in cooperation at multilateral level. The representatives identified best practices, exchanged experiences on ways to prevent and respond to torture and ill-treatment where it occurs, and developed set of recommendations to the AU and its institutions, the EU and its institutions as well as member states of both organisations.
Among others, the meeting was also attended by the African Union Commissioner for Political Affairs H. E. Minata Samate Cessouma and the European Union Special Representative for Human Rights H. E. Stavros Lambrinidis who both expressed their support to the work of the civil society, their commitment to promote enabling environment for civil society to operate, and expressed their institutional and political engagement to end the scandal of torture and other cruel treatments, as worst forms of human rights abuses in the world.
The two Co-Chairs of the AU-EU CSOs Steering Committee, Osman and his counterpart from Europe Jean-Marie Rogue of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) further attended the official EU and AU human rights dialogue, and briefed EU and AU top officials about the outcome of the civil society seminar, wherein they advocated for intergovernmental backing to reverse the shrinking civil society space and the fight against torture in the continents. Their submissions were met with a welcome from the AU and the EU who then agreed to take practical actions in actualising the recommendations.
In addition, the conclusion of the seventh AU-EU CSOs seminar will be presented at the Civil Society Conference in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire, which will be held on the margins of the African Union and European Union member states summit in November 2017.