As West African states have been implementing anti-COVID-19 directives to curb the global pandemic, civil society organisations (CSOs) have increasingly raised criticism on national and regional decision-making and governance related to the pandemic. In particular, they have highlighted that these health measures have often not been subjected to democratic debate and parliamentary oversight. They have also reported that in some West African countries, such as Nigeria and Senegal, during the pandemic, journalists have been arrested or sacked from their media outlets. In Guinea, they have not stopped questioning president Alpha Conde’s alleged intentions to use COVID-19 as a pretext to push through a new constitution that would enable him to run for a third mandate.
Yet, if COVID-19 represents a threat for human rights and civil liberties, it also constitutes an opportunity for CSOs to raise awareness on general interest issues for a prosperous, democratic and peaceful West Africa. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the growing need for CSOs to play their roles as watchdogs and to champion the protection of human rights and civil liberties (Africa report, 2020). The pandemic could also be analysed as one of the triggers of the resurgence of street-level mobilisation, such as in Mali where protestors requested the President to resign from office after highly contested elections organised amidst COVID. CSOs could, therefore, leverage on the pandemic to make their voices fully heard by public authorities and achieve significant transformations in terms of public policies.
However, West African CSOs are faced with several challenges that limit their capacities to lead the protection of human rights and civil liberties. As evidenced by a WACSI report, CSOs tend to maintain their interventions in community development, solidarity activities and water supply among others, rather than engaging in human rights, youth and education, and empowerment of women. Limited knowledge about the regional and international human rights system, inadequate skills to engage with the mechanism and resources to engage with the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) could further explain why they are not fully reaching their potential in safeguarding human rights and civil liberties.
In this context, WACSI with its partner CIVICUS, organised a two-day webinar on 18 and 19 June 2020 (the first part is accessible here and the second part here) on the use of and engagement with regional and international human rights procedures for the promotion and protection of human rights in Africa. The webinar enabled 28 participants from 13 West African Francophone, Anglophone and Portuguese-speaking countries* to become familiar with common African and international human rights instruments, as well as to be equipped with skills and knowledge in advocacy, lobbying strategies for engagement with the African and global human rights system. All participants received a certificate after the training that attests to their engagement in the training.
In the introduction of this webinar, Paul Mulindwa, Advocacy and Campaigns Officer, CIVICUS highlighted the importance of the session.
“This webinar comes at the right time when we all really need to engage in different platforms, to have exposure to what happening in terms of restrictions. The pandemic has really front-loaded some of those habits that we have kept under our coffers in terms of governance and human rights. Thus, having a meeting of that sort becomes timely and important for all of us in our different contexts”, he explained.
100% of participants expressed satisfaction with the webinar, with more than 90% asserting that the presentation and facilitation style positively contributed to their learning experience. According to one participant,
“I have understood through this first session that advocacy and human rights mechanisms are universal and that each country can use common means to assert itself. The internationalisation and regionalisation of these mechanisms is a matter not only for human rights specialists but also for actors in other fields,” a participant explained.
Do you work for a CSO in West Africa? Do you want to benefit from such free training? We have several special training opportunities that are only accessible to CSOs registered on our E-Directory platform here. If you have difficulty in registering, please watch this explanatory video or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or +233501440545 (WhatsApp).
* The 28 participants were from Togo, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde, Benin, Gambia, Nigeria, Liberia, Mali, Guinea, Mauritania, Senegal, Niger and Côte d’Ivoire.