The African Commission owes it to those who seek to cooperate and communicate with it to ensure that they can do so safely and without censorship, ISHR has told the 55th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Addressing Commissioners and States, ISHR’s Clement Voule said that the contribution of civil society is crucial to the work of the African Commission and that witnesses and advocates must be protected from retaliation and reprisals.

‘Preventing people from contributing deprives the Commission of the necessary and useful information it needs to enable it to discharge its mandate of promoting and protecting human rights’, Mr Voule said.

Too often, he added, reprisals are committed under the pretext that the State wants to prevent ‘false information’ being provided to the Commission.

‘It is unlawful and illigetimate for States to seek to censor communications with the Commission by human rights defenders and civil society activists. Where there are concerns regarding the veracity of a communication, it is the Commission’s role to assess all the information provided to it, both by States and NGOs, to assess its accuracy, and to reach an objective conclusion,’ Mr Voule said.

‘Reprisals can never be justified. We call on States to refrain from any reprisals against those who cooperate with the Commission and prosecute and punish any persons – whether State or non-State actors – who perpetrate such reprisals.’

‘ISHR also calls on the Commission to take additional measures to receive and investigate cases of reprisal and to hold States concerned to their obligations,’ Mr Voule said.

ISHR’s statement also addressed the broader issue of human rights defenders across the African continent being subject to numerous and increasing restrictions on their important and legtimate activities. Later this session the Commission will adopt a study on the laws governing freedom of association and peaceful assembly on the continent and the enjoyment of these rights. It has also recently adopted, at its 15th extraordinary session, a report on the situation and protection of women human rights defenders.

ISHR welcomes both these initiatives. ‘We are pleased to see the Commission responding to concerns about the safety of human rights defenders. Now we look to see these initiatives implemented. States must amend national laws to ensure that human rights defenders, including women human rights defenders, can carry out their critical work without fear for their own safety,’ Mr Voule said.

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