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February 22, 2024

ABA CHR and ROLI Highlight Environmental Rights at the 77th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

Environmental Human Rights Defenders (EHRDs) are at the forefront of holding governments and corporations accountable for actions that have adverse impacts on the environment, advocating for transparency and seeking remedies for communities affected by extractive activities. As EHRDs engage, however, they often face threats, physical assault, and other forms of harassment and intimidation from various entities, including state actors, for their role in upholding environmental and human rights standards. 

To support civil society in advancing protections for EHRDs at the regional level, the ABA Center for Global Programs (CGP) through its Center for Human Rights (CHR) and Rule of Law Initiative (ROLI), along with Defend Defenders and International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), convened a side event on October 19, 2023, at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) 77th Ordinary Session. The side event brought together Consortium partners under the ABA’s Enhancing Protection of Environmental Defenders in Africa program, along with regional CSOs and EHRDs, to complement litigation and advocacy efforts for greater environmental protection. The event directed the attention of national and regional decisionmakers to crucial reforms and engaged them in regional mechanisms, complementing an advocacy training session conducted by ABA ROLI on October 20-21 for EHRDs in Arusha.

Speakers during ABA ROLI and CHR's side event at the ACHPR 77th Ordinary Session

Speakers during ABA ROLI and CHR's side event at the ACHPR 77th Ordinary Session

October 19, 2023

At the side event, CHR, ROLI, and partners disseminated the findings of two reports. The first highlights the situation of EHRDs in Uganda, DRC, and Tanzania; the second, threats against women EHRDs in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique. Attendees then discussed strategies for enhancing protection for EHRDs at the regional level, providing advocates and civil society an opportunity to engage with commissioners of the ACHPR’s special mechanisms and urge them to act within their mandate to support greater protection of EHRDs and fundamental freedoms in their respective countries, as well as to increase awareness and engagement by regional stakeholders to increase collective action and solidarity to support CSOs in these countries. The meeting was opened by the Chairperson of the African Commission, Hon. Rémy Ngoy Lumbu (who is also the Special Rapporteur on HRDs and Focal Point on Reprisals in Africa); and was closed by the Vice Chairperson of the Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations in Africa, Hon. Dr. Litha Musyimi-Ogana, who recommended that the Working Group urgently address the issue of impunity for attacks on EHRDs in the context of mining in conflict areas.

On October 25, 2023, CHR co-hosted a separate side event with the Environmental Rights Africa (ERA) CSO coalition, a network of environmental actors. The ERA participants included CIVICUS, Universal Rights Group, Women Leaders Network for Development, ISHR, and Alliance for Land, Indigenous, and Environmental Defenders. The panelists included the ACHPR Chairperson, who was called upon to partner with the group to develop a binding agreement on environmental rights across the continent. The Chairperson agreed, in principle, on the need for a resolution for a binding environmental instrument and requested the organizations to submit this request through statements during the ACHPR public session, through communication with the relevant ACHPR special mechanisms, and through the submission of draft resolutions.

Attendees (top image) and speakers (bottom image) ABA ROLI and CHR's side event at the ACHPR 77th Ordinary Session

Attendees (top image) and speakers (bottom image) ABA ROLI and CHR's side event at the ACHPR 77th Ordinary Session

October 19, 2023

Following the event, CIVICUS issued a statement that called upon the African Commission to:

  • Adopt a resolution for the drafting of a regional instrument for the protection of Environmental Rights in Africa;

  • Expedite the process of drafting an African Regional Instrument to Regulate the Activities of Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises to address business-related human rights violations in Africa; and 

  • Adopt a resolution for a moratorium on resource extraction activities in conflict areas, and fragile states, in Africa. 

Following the delivery of the statement, Commissioners expressed interest and support for the recommendations and asked ERA Coalition partners to prepare resolutions for these recommendations. The first resolution called for a study to assess establishing a moratorium on extraction in conflict areas; the second, for the drafting of a regional instrument for the protection of environmental rights in Africa. Though the resolutions were not adopted during this session, Commissioner Dersso, Chairperson of the Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations in Africa, communicated his mandate’s interest in following up on these recommendations with appropriate action.  

Learn more about ABA ROLI’s work across Africa.

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