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Women and Sexual Minorities Denied a Seat at the Table by the African Commission on Human and Peoplesí Rights

Friday 14 September 2018, by siawi3

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Women and Sexual Minorities Denied a Seat at the Table by the African Commission on Human and Peoplesí Rights

August 17, 2018


JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA. The Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL) is deeply disappointed by the recent decision of the African Commission on Human and Peoplesí Rights (ACHPR) to withdraw CALís observer status, bowing to the pressure of the Executive Council of the African Union, and its regressive interpretation of the African Charter on Human and Peoplesí Rights.

The decision to withdraw CALís observer status was communicated by the Secretariat of the ACHPR to CAL on 8 August 2018 and provided only as reason compliance with the AU Executive Councilís decisions of 2016 and 2018. CAL was duly granted observer status at the ACHPR in April 2015 after more than a decade of activism at the ACHPR to defend womenís rights and sexual rights.

CAL is the only regional, membership based organisation that works specifically to advance the rights of lesbians and womenís rights more broadly in their diversity in Africa. CAL has used its observer status to make statements before the ACHPR that shed light on a wide range of human rights violations experienced by women. CAL has also worked with member organisations to prepare shadow reports during country reviews, collaborated with Commissioners of the ACHPR on thematic reports including a recent report focusing on the denial of abortion and post abortion care as torture; and a groundbreaking report on the situation of women human rights defenders in Africa.

The withdrawal of CALísí observer status actively excludes African womenís rights movements and defenders from the vital human rights spaces where decisions are made about us and for us, but ultimately without us. Donna A. M. Smith, CALís Director of Development, notes:

ďthe withdrawal of CALís observer status also exemplifies the backlash that women and LGBTQI movements are facing on the continent in their work for the recognition of issues of autonomy, sexuality and gender in the human rights framework, as well as persistent attacks on their rights to freedom of expression and associationĒ.

By folding under the pressure of the AU, the ACHPR has dealt a significant blow to human rights in Africa, and undermined its credibility, independence and mandate as the premier institution on the continent tasked with defending and upholding the human rights of ALL.

Without an effective, independent and rights based African Commission on Human and Peoplesí Rights, individual rights holders are left to defend themselves against the routine and persistent rights violations perpetrated by the powerful Ė including corrupt corporations and government officials.

In addition, the ACHPR decision undermines its mission of interpretation of the African Charter, by allowing a political body to dictate its own biased and regressive reading. This backtrack is a clear illustration, amongst other decisions taken recently by both bodies, that the ACHPR has lost its independence and civil society space is shrinking.

Other threats to the independence of the ACHPR

The withdrawal of CALís observer status should not be seen as an isolated event, or a single expression of a patriarchal and misogynic backlash against activists who challenge conservative norms in Africa. The recurring tensions between law and political influence by member states at the ACHPR requires serious redress as this impinges on rights and questions the fundamental role of the ACHPR .

The recent decision of the AU Executive Council (EX.CL/Dec.1015 (XXXIII)), further restricts the independence of the workings of the ACHPR by ordering it to obtain prior approval from a country before reporting on human rights violations happening in that country. By stating that the ACHPR only benefits from an independence that is Ďfunctionalí, member States of the AU have clearly demonstrated their resistance to be scrutinised and held accountable for national human rights violations, rendering powerless institutions that were set up to protect and promote human and peoplesí rights.

Finally, the directive of the AU Executive Council for the ACHPR to align its criteria for granting observer status to those already used by the African Union will render civil society participation in this space nearly impossible. The AU criteria for obtaining observer status are extremely restrictive and effectively exclude most civil society organisations and NGOs preoccupied with defending human rights on the continent.

Womenís Rights and Sexual Rights are Human Rights!

We call on all members of civil society, organisations, human rights defenders, national human rights institutions, and the general public to express their concern to their respective State representatives members of the African Union and to demand transparent, independent and accountable African human rights institutions and mechanisms that promote, protect and fulfill the rights of ALL people, including women and sexual minorities, on the continent.


About CAL

The Coalition of African Lesbians is a feminist, activist and pan Africanist network of 14 organisations in 11 countries in sub-Saharan Africa committed to advancing freedom, justice and bodily autonomy for all women on the African continent and beyond. For more information about CAL please click here.


For more information please contact:

Donna A M Smith
Director of development
+27 11 403 0007

Caroline Tagny
Media and Campaigns Manager