The 1st African and European Union (EU) Civil Society Human Rights Seminar has been held in Brussels on 16 and 17 of April 2009.
About 50 Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) from Africa and EU have attended the seminar. The seminar was held in the spirit of the Africa-EU Partnership which has pledged to “further promote the development of a vibrant and independent civil society and of a systematic dialogue between it and public authorities at all levels.” Participants acknowledged the important role placed on CSOs in the Africa-EU Partnership and have expressed their commitment to work towards the realization of this grand agenda.
During the seminar, participants discussed the following issues:
– The legal frameworks for civil society in Africa and Europe: NGO laws and the role of civil society in implementing human rights instruments;
– The fight against torture in Africa and EU based on African and EU human rights instruments and institutions; and
– The Role of CSOs in the EU-AU partnership: the way forward.
I. Legal frameworks for civil society in Africa and EU: NGO laws and the role of civil society in implementing human rights instruments
As regards legal frameworks for civil society in Africa and EU in implementing human rights instruments, participants noted that the major role of civil society in the field of human rights is to hold governments accountable for their human rights commitments and to encourage and monitor the implementation of human rights. Hence, in order for the CSOs to perform their role effectively, there should be a favourable legal framework that respects and promotes freedom of association as enshrined in the international and regional human rights instruments. Participants noted that respect for freedom of association is a crucial indicator of the respect for the rule of law. They noted that there are challenges in Africa and the EU in respecting the freedom of association and have called upon African and EU member states to take the following measures with a view to creating favourable conditions for the smooth functioning of CSOs:
– Ratification of international and regional instruments
– Translation of their international commitments to respect freedom of association into their domestic legislations
– CSOs faced with restrictions to their work should be provided with a legal remedy.
– Collaboration between civil society and governments at the national level and ensure that civil society is involved in the development of NGO laws.
II. The fight against torture: the Monitoring of Conditions of Detention, presentation of the situation in Europe and Africa
Participants have emphasized that the fight against torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in any circumstances is a priority that requires a continued political will by African and EU member states and call up on the states to make this issue their priority agenda. They called for:
– Ratification of relevant human rights instruments in the area in particular, the International Convention Against Torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and its Optional Protocol (OPCAT), and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
– Full implementation of all legal obligations in respect of the absolute prohibition of torture through the adoption of comprehensive laws and effective mechanisms, as well as coherence between their internal and external approaches to the fight against torture and ill treatment.
– Focus special attention to vulnerable groups, who are particularly exposed to torture, including women and
children, who are particularly affected by torturous customary laws and practices.
– Further efforts to be made states obligation to prohibit torture and undertake proactive policies, in cooperation with CSOs.
The Way Forward
Participants call upon African and EU member states to strengthen their efforts in the fight against torture by taking several measures at the national level particularly targeting:
– prevention and prohibition of torture, including by setting up national preventive mechanism, as provided for by the OPCAT, by allowing for any independent investigations conducted to places of detention, by developing capacity building activities for law enforcement officials and by ensuring that those responsible for acts of torture are prosecuted and punished;
– reparation, including restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction, guarantee of non-repetition for direct and indirect victims.
They recommend that the fight against torture be systematically addressed in the framework of the political dialogue held under article 8 of the Cotonou Agreement.