African Union Seeks to Curb Actions against African Values
Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Executive Council of the African Union issued its decision on a report about the actions of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR).

In the decision, the African Union acts to curb the actions of the ACHPR that it believes are not advancing “African values and traditions”. The ACHPR is a treaty monitoring body for the African Union but as is the case with treaty bodies at the United Nations and Organization of American States it has been issuing controversial recommendations on abortion and other issues and working extremely closely with select pro-abortion NGOs.  

The ACHPR was reminded by the African Union that its independence is of a “functional nature” and it is not to act independent from the “same organs that created the body”. The African Union cautioned the ACHPR on its tendency to act “as an appellate body, thereby undermining national legal systems” and reminded it that it primarily serves “as an audit mechanism”.  The ACHPR was instructed that its work must take into consideration “the virtues of historical tradition and the values of African civilization which should inspire and characterize their reflection on the concept of human and peoples’ rights.”

Respect for African values was also behind the instruction to revise the criteria for granting and withdrawing observer status for NGOs. The ACHPR was told to take into account African values and traditions and develop “clear Guidelines with regards to its engagement with external actors”. The ACHPR was asked to report on the implementation of the decision at the February 2019 Summit.

The Executive Council specifically instructed the ACHPR to rescind the NGO status of the African organization CAL, Coalition of African Lesbians. CAL explains that it “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.”

CAL responded by the expulsion by criticizing the ACHPR which it described as “biased and regressive” stating:

“The withdrawal of CAL’s observer status should not be seen as an isolated event, or a single expression of a patriarchal and misogynic backlash against activists who challenge conservative norms in Africa. The recurring tensions between law and political influence by member states at the ACHPR requires serious redress as this impinges on rights and questions the fundamental role of the ACHPR .

“At the 25th African Union Summit, during the consideration of the report of the African Commission, the Executive Council of the African Union took the decision to request the Commission “to take into account the fundamental African values, identity and good traditions, and to withdraw the observer status granted to NGOs who may attempt to impose values contrary to the African values; in this regard, requests the ACHPR to review its criteria for granting observer status to NGOs and to withdraw the observer status granted to the Organization called CAL, in line with those African Values.

The NGO delivered a statement to the Human Rights Council in Geneva during its recent session critical of the ACHPR, the African Union, and the decision to withdraw its NGO status. It claimed that the action “mirrors similar attacks on the global human rights system” and “is a clear illustration of threats enacted by states to civil society participation and defenders working to advance and defend human rights on the continent.”

Tweets by the NGO include:

“States are increasingly and opportunistically using terms like ‘morals’, ‘values, ‘culture’ and ‘family’, to undermine human rights and delegitimize defenders.#ACHPR #HRC39

The Executive Council’s concerns over the undue influence of NGOs on the ACHPR can be seen in the ACHPR’s General Comment No. 2 (GC)  and its radical promotion of abortion prepared in large part by Ipas, an NGO that performs abortions, lobbies for abortion legalization, and trains health personnel in abortion techniques. The ACHPR expresses its gratitude to Ipas “for its valuable contribution on all issues relating to sexual and reproductive rights and its technical support towards the preparation of the General Comment.” Read more about this 2015 report here.

The action by the Executive Council to restore the ACHPR to its mandate as stated in the African Charter is commendable.