In a blow to human rights on the continent, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) has withdrawn the observer status of the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL).
Formed in 1986, the ACHPR is meant to promote and protect human rights and collective (peoples’) rights throughout the African continent. Its independence, however, has increasingly been called into question.
CAL was granted observer status at the ACHPR in April 2015 after more than a decade of activism. The decision to withdraw this status was communicated by the Secretariat of the ACHPR to CAL on 8 August. This followed push-back from the African Union (AU) about CAL’s status, insisting that the ACHPR reconsider the status and take into account “African values and traditions.”
CAL said it was “deeply disappointed” by the development and accused the ACHPR of “bowing to the pressure of the Executive Council of the African Union, and its regressive interpretation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”
CAL works to advance the rights of lesbians and women’s rights more broadly in their diversity in Africa. The organisation has used its observer status to make statements before the ACHPR that shed light on a wide range of human rights violations experienced by women.
CAL has also worked with member organisations to prepare shadow reports during country reviews, collaborated with Commissioners of the ACHPR on thematic reports, including a recent report focusing on the denial of abortion and post abortion care as torture; and a groundbreaking report on the situation of women human rights defenders in Africa.
The organisation said the withdrawal of its observer status “actively excludes African women’s rights movements and defenders from the vital human rights spaces where decisions are made about us and for us, but ultimately without us.”
Donna A. M. Smith, CAL’s Director of Development, added that it “also exemplifies the backlash that women and LGBTQI movements are facing on the continent in their work for the recognition of issues of autonomy, sexuality and gender in the human rights framework, as well as persistent attacks on their rights to freedom of expression and association.”
Smith believes that by folding to the pressure of the AU, the ACHPR has dealt a significant blow to human rights in Africa, and has undermined its credibility, independence and mandate as the premier institution on the continent tasked with defending and upholding the human rights of all.
CAL noted that this was not an isolated event and reflected a growing trend by the AU to restrict the independence of the ACHPR. The group cited a recent decision of the AU Executive Council ordering the ACHPR to obtain prior approval from a country before reporting on human rights violations happening in that country.