I should say we still remain behind in terms of our human rights situation. Every day we hear various cases about extrajudicial killings, state security agencies using excessive force, women continuing to be raped, and children defiled. We hear cases of people from opposition political parties being subjected to all sorts of torture. In short, I would say the current human rights situation in Africa is not inspiring at all. Especially when those that lead us, those that make commitments that are going to defend and promote human rights, are the very same people that are violating peoples’ rights. It’s really a huge concern.
Those that lead us, those that make commitments that are going to defend and promote human rights, are the very same people that are violating peoples’ rights
State of the commission’s independence
Starting from last year, we really made a lot of noise about making the African Commission independent. But if you look at this arrangement, it starts with national human rights commissions. You find that as long as leadership of national human rights commissions continue to be appointed by those that are in power, their independence is compromised. They’re not as autonomous as we would want them to be. And then, if you go to the African Commission itself, you find that whatever recommendations they make, whatever decisions they make, it will still depend on the political leadership and making sure that they take heed of the recommendations that come from the commission, and we have not seen that.
Because of the fact that we are dealing with African leaders that don’t really look at human rights as fundamental aspects in governance, we have an uphill task to deal with
Because of that, and because of the fact that we are dealing with African leaders that don’t really look at human rights as fundamental aspects in governance, we have an uphill task to deal with. I can say that the African Commission is not as autonomous as we want it to be and this is a serious impediment to peoples’ enjoyment and fulfillment of human rights.
Who can contribute to protecting human rights in Africa?
I think the time has come for citizens, for Africans themselves, to begin realizing that those that benefit from the status quo don’t want change. So it’s up to citizens to start realizing this and then begin demanding their rights. Knocking on the doors of duty bearers, asking for accountability on various issues that affect human rights.
I think the time has come for citizens, for Africans themselves, to begin realizing that those that benefit from the status quo don’t want change
The civil society is a very important player in this. However, the challenge that is there now is most of the civil society institutions in Africa that really are on the forefront of championing human rights do not have adequate resources to do so. Number two, those that try to are always subjected to all forms of reprisals ranging from raids to economic hardships that they face deliberately imposed by governments just to stifle their efforts. What I want to say is that civil society is there and citizens themselves should be sensitized and should wake up and start demanding fulfillment of their rights.
For me I think, for instance, we have this very important document which talks about documenting, reporting, and making follow-ups. But this is not enough. Because you can report and you can document, but it all depends on the action that will be taken and whether someone is going to take heed of the recommendations made. So my call would be, it’s high time that African leaders started not considering themselves as a club or a secret society of leaders who are there to impede or to stifle human rights.
Because you can report and you can document, but it all depends on the action that will be taken and whether someone is going to take heed of the recommendations made
We want to have an African Union, and African team of heads of state that will be able to suspend those leaders that deliberately violate citizen’s rights; the right to assembly, the right to participate in elections, and many many other rights that Africans are not enjoying right now.
Happy Mhango is a member of the national leadership team of the Malawi Human Rights Defenders Coalition. He is also part of the task force for the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network team that focuses on the right to assembly. He promotes assembly rights, responds to various issues facing protesters, and offers support to activists.