Statement of IHRDA at 61st OS of the ACHPR: IHRDA Urges the Commission to Take Action Regarding Shrinking Civic Space in Africa Banjul, 5 November 2017

We wish to bring to the attention of the Commission our concern and alarm at the continued shrinking of the civic society space in many African countries.

For instance, On Tuesday, 17 October 2017 in Dar es Salaam, a legal consultation convened by Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA) and Community Health Services and Advocacy (CHESA) was raided by the Tanzanian Police. The consultation had been convened in order to get more instructions and evidence on an intended case concerning the government’s decision to limit the provision of certain health services that it had previously provided, especially as relates to HIV/AIDS prevention services. Thirteen people attending the consultation were arrested but granted bail. However, for no reason whatsoever, they were re-arrested and detained on 20 October 2017. They were held without charge until they were released on 26 October 2017. The foreigners among them were immediately deported without the authorities giving any reasons for the deportation. This was an attempt by the Tanzanian authorities to frustrate the work of these human rights defenders and to prevent them from being able to do their work.

In Kenya, in the aftermath of the 8 August 2017 elections, the government of Kenya closed down two vibrant non-governmental organizations; the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) and the Africa Centre for Open Governance (AfriCOG). The government froze the assets of both organizations and called for the arrest of their directors. In October 2017, the Kenyan government also shut down the International Development Law Organization (IDLO); a NGO that had been funding key judiciary projects in Kenya. The assets of the organization were frozen. It was alleged by the authorities that the organization had been involved in criminal activities but the government did not mention the said criminal activities.

In Uganda, the Non-Governmental Organisations Act of 2016 has created unnecessary and stringent prerequisites for registration and operation that make it difficult for many NGOs to be registered and to carry on their operations. The Act also creates vague and ambiguous provisions that are open to broad interpretation and malleable to the purpose and motive of the interpreter. Recently, ActionAid Uganda had their offices raided by security operatives and subsequently had their bank accounts frozen.

In Nigeria, the National Assembly is currently considering a similar NGO Regulation Bill. The Bill proposes to create an NGO Regulatory Commission, which will be headed by an executive secretary appointed by the president for five years and a 17-member Governing Board, led by a chairman, all of whom shall also be appointed by the president. The Board will have powers to issue licences to all NGOs without which they cannot operate. The licence of the NGO Board alone (not registration with the Corporate Affairs Commission) will confer legal personality and perpetual succession on NGOs. The licence must be renewed every 24 months. If not, legal personality is lost. This will ensure that NGOs that do not have the favour of the government can be deregistered at will.

These examples are only representative of the situation in many African States.

We therefore urge the Commission to:

  1. call on States to create the enabling environment for civil society actors;
  2. respond to cases of the shrinking civic space in Africa, whenever and wherever they occur;
  3. continue to engage with States to remind them of the importance of the work of civil society to development, and to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Africa;
  4. to popularize the recently adopted Guidelines of the Commission on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa.