Silencing the Voices of Victims: Attacks on NGOs by North African States and Sudan at the African Commission for Human Rights

In African Commission for Human and Peoples' Rights by


(14 November, 2010 – Banjul)


A number of African states concerted an attack on national, regional, and international NGOs, including CIHRS, following an intervention by the NGOs outlining the human rights situation in a number of African countries at a session of the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) in Banjul, the Gambia. Not only was the language used by some of these states at odds with the diplomatic nature of the Commission, but some of the statements were also an insult to the many victims of Human Rights violations, some of whom were present in the room. Such responses by the states delegations are seen to deliberately hinder the Commission to effectively carry out its mandate.


The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH), Amnesty International, and the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (EHAHRDN) were amongst the NGOs attacked by these states. 


Sudan, Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria dominated the response to NGOs. The various statements attempted to tarnish the reputation of the NGOs, censor them, and further shrink the available space for NGOs at the Commission, thus undermining the ability of these NGOs to effectively engage with the African Union human rights watchdog.


These state interventions came in response to a statement made earlier by CIHRS with the support of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), and the Collectif des Familles des Disparus en Algerie (CFDA). Egypt alleged that the Commission is not the appropriate place to cite individual examples, whilst Algeria accused certain NGOs of having colonialist agendas, and urged the Commission to rectify the granting of observer status to the organizations that had criticized Algeria&#146s human rights record. Sudan and Tunisia denied the existence of any violations on their territory.


Ironically, these declarations by North African states and Sudan come at a time where human rights violations and abuses are continuously being committed in these countries. “This is a characteristic example of the exportation of repression by North African states and Sudan from the domestic context to regional and international forums,” said Laila Matar, UN Advocacy Representative, CIHRS.


While Egypt acknowledged the continuous State of Emergency since 1981, it repeated what has become something of a cliché in its rhetoric, namely that Emergency Laws are not used to target Freedom of Expression, and only drug dealers and terrorists. However, there are questions that the Egyptian government systematically fails to answer: Were Musa’ad Abu Al-Fajr, Yehia Abo Nassera, and Hany Nazeer, detained and arrested under emergency law for entries on their respective blogs, terrorists or drug dealers? Were the hundreds of Shiites that were arbitrary arrested under the emergency law for not prescribing to the official State interpretation of Islam, terrorists or drug dealers? Were the 22 workers who were given between two to five years of prison in relation to the general strikes in Mahala, terrorists or drug dealers? Are the liberal and socialist opposition activists who have been arrested regularly since last March in connection with their participation in peaceful marches, terrorists or drug dealers? Was the CIHRS researcher who was forcibly disappeared and held incommunicado in September, a terrorist or a drug dealer?  Numerous of innocent civilians, human rights defenders, and political activists are victims of these emergency laws.


In response to criticism of a bill passed by parliament in June this year, which enables the granting of prison sentences for every Tunisian who has contact with foreign entities in order to harm vital interests of Tunisia, Tunisia reassured the Commission that such laws are already in place in other countries. One such country is Algeria, where independent journalists and others have been targeted through the use of provisions in the 2006 Charter for Peace and Reconciliation. It is not surprising that in Tunisia, a country where independent journalists, political activists, and human rights defenders are living in an endless state of fear of reprisals, the government has integrated this new law that could be used as an additional tool for repressing civil society.


Algeria also contributed towards these attacks on NGOs, when it alleged that the CFDA, whose spokesperson is an Algerian mother of a victim of enforced disappearance, is not an Algerian organization and has not been mandated by the families of the disappeared to speak in their name. Can the Algerian government claim that this mother is not the real representative of the families of the disappeared? Is the Algerian government, which is responsible for the disappearance of her son, entitled to monopolize the dossier on the disappearances?


“Despite the positive comment by Egypt that it considers NGOs its partners in the process of improving the human rights situation in the country, the systematic and unconstructive attacks on NGOs and their statements by the North African states and Sudan at the Commission undermines the deliberative process of the Commission and its ability to effectively carry out its mandate,” Ziad Abdel Tawab, Advocacy Advisor, CIHRS.


Please see attached for the Oral Intervention.