Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network is represented by its Chairperson, Mr Arnold Tsunga at a human rights defenders meeting currently being held in Ivory Coast from 18 to 22 October 2021. The meeting is organised by Internation Services for Human Rights (ISHR) and held under the theme “Protecting Civic and Democratic Space and Strengthening the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Times of Crisis”.
During the first day, Mr Tsunga gave the remarks below, on the state of civic space and the situation of human rights defenders in Southern Africa.
Many of the patterns of attacks and persecution shared from presenters apply with the same force in Southern Africa and therefore I will not repeat but add a few aspects that need reinforcement.
Covid quickly morphed from a public health pandemic into several associated pandemics such as a socio-economic rights pandemic; into a gender-based violence pandemic; into a human rights violations with impunity pandemic and into a democracy regression pandemic.
Elections are increasingly a threat multiplier in a season of democracy regression and authoritarian consolidation. Leaders especially incumbents see power as an end in itself and therefore at any cost. Elections are increasingly instruments to acquire power rather than periodic public accountability mechanisms to build democracy in Africa. Besides Zambia, the former liberation war movements in Southern Africa feel entitled to retain power and this is a source of proliferation of negative impact on electoral contestations.
With weakening multilateralism and international rule of law framework, the Non-state actor’s power in shaping the operating context for HRDs is increasing in many spheres, including electoral democracy, economics. The structure of the economic model inherited from the colonial system of extractivism especially in mining is increasingly bringing to the fore the role of business in human rights violations and the increasing threats to HRDs in land, environment and indigenous communities. The Minerals/Energy matrix because of reliance on fossil fuels really brings pressure on environmental and climate defenders in a stark way where we predict an escalation in Southern Africa.
The FLD Global report shows that of the 331 HRDs who paid with their lives 70% of these were land, environment and indigenous HRDs. The underreporting in Africa compared to Latin America is a cause for concern especially given the nexus between conflict and extractive economic activity. We need to improve monitoring and documentation in this area.
A significant number of HRDs are still not aware that they are HRDs. Not only are they therefore not benefiting from the protection mechanisms but this lack of knowledge increases their risk profile as they are often sitting ducks. I think we need to redouble our awareness campaigns so that we leave no one behind.
Finally, we seem to be in a season for a new wave of NGO laws being promulgated that will present threats to both existence and operations of NGOs. The excuse being used of complying with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations to model the new laws need a global response and support from the UN Special Rapporteurs