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Advancing Rights in Benin

Once a model for regional democracy, the 2016 presidential elections marked the beginning of democratic backsliding for Benin. President Patrice Talon’s government curtailed basic political freedoms, restricted democratic pluralism, and eroded legislative and judicial institutions. In addition to internal political developments, regional events significantly impacted Beninese society. Extremist violence and intercommunal-conflict increased in Benin’s northern regions as a spill-over from expanding instability in neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.

To prevent further democratic decline and expanding instability, ABA ROLI collaborated with the Benin Human Rights Commission (BHRC) and select civil society organizations to implement the Advancing Rights in Benin (ARB) activity, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Over two years, between 2021 and 2023, the ARB activity focused on bolstering accountability for human rights violations and strengthening access to justice. It also aimed to enhance the capacity of the BHRC to enforce checks on the government’s increasingly authoritarian measures and increase access to justice and the peaceful resolution of disputes in Benin’s northern regions. In particular, the ARB activity supported the BHRC to develop and support regional human rights resource centers that were staffed by ABA ROLI-supported Human Rights Officers. Throughout the activity, we collaborated with civil society partners to expand public awareness and understanding of human rights, as well as improve service delivery relating to justice assistance and facilitate improved collaboration among human rights-oriented institutions.

The ABA ROLI-supported BHRC Human Rights Officers saw notable increases in the number of contacts received from their communities, with more than 600 individuals requesting assistance on human rights violations received in the first three months of the year alone. In response to the increasing instability and threat of violent extremism in Benin’s northern regions, ABA ROLI directed program activities toward the affected communities. For example, we held a Youth Citizenship Workshop in Kandi, in the northern region of Alibori, to engage young people around themes of civic engagement and social cohesion. ABA ROLI also held human rights dialogues in four of Benin’s regional capitals (Dangbo, Bohicon, Natitingou, and Parakou) to bring together key community stakeholders representing diverse community groups for discussions around improving human rights protections.

Through the ARB activity, ABA ROLI empowered civil society partners to respond to human rights needs throughout Benin, with a particular emphasis on northern regions. We supported one CSO partner to confront the challenge posed by extremist violence toward access to education in Northern communities by convening regional stakeholders to develop strategic responses to violence risks. We also supported the organization Civic Academy for African Future to provide legal aid services through clinics held at two regional offices of the BHRC in northern Benin. In addition, ABA ROLI engaged with the Association of Women Lawyers of Benin to provide training to local women civil society organizations in Benin’s northern regions on responses related to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), and to facilitate legal consultations with women from underserved communities.

To improve coordination among human rights actors and key human rights institutions, ABA ROLI facilitated meetings between the BHRC and Parliament in April—including a meeting with the President of the National Assembly. ABA ROLI developed a partnership framework between the Benin Bar Association and the BHRC to ensure improved access to legal assistance for individuals who have suffered human rights violations.

ABA ROLI supported the BHRC in engaging in human rights initiatives beyond its borders, with the BHRC participating at the 53rd Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva following the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) report. As a National Human Rights Institution with an "A" status, the BHRC was afforded special privileges to engage in the session and present observations. The BHRC congratulated the Republic of Benin on having accepted 234 of the 258 recommendations that were directed to it, and the BHRC pledged to collaborate with the government to seek the continuous improvement of the human rights environment in Benin.