The Status of Human Rights Organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa


The Status of Human Rights Organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa is the result of a very rewarding collaborative effort that included a large number of human rights activists and organizations. The project was undertaken at an historic moment for human rights protection in sub-Saharan Africa, following the emergence over the last several years of a large number of human rights organizations in the region. It was an appropriate moment to try to discern patterns or trends in these developments.

The Swedish NGO Foundation for Human Rights and the International Human Rights Internship Program (IHRIP) are the project sponsors, but the bulk of the work behind the report fell on the shoulders of the nine individuals who served as project researchers. Each country report was written by the researcher whose name appears at the end of the report. The first several sections of the Overview were written by one of the researchers, Richard Carver, and the last section, on training resources, by IHRIP staff. The Overview as a whole reflects discussions between researchers and project sponsors both prior to and following research travel.

The direct participants in the project--the sponsors and researchers--have already learned and gained a great deal from this effort. Through this report we have an opportunity to share the information gathered and analyzed by researchers with human rights organizations in sub-Saharan Africa. The many organizations with which researchers met were invariably hospitable and generous with their time, and we are thankful to them. Our greatest hope with respect to this report is that it will assist these and other human rights organizations in the region to get a fuller sense of the bigger picture within which their critical, day-to-day work fits, and facilitate their being in touch with other organizations in the region that work in areas of particular interest to them. We also hope it will promote a dialogue between the human rights organizations and donors, creating greater understanding by and concerned participation on the part of donors. Finally, we hope and expect that the report will improve the work of the two sponsoring organizations, especially when it comes to the provision of training.

This report is not intended to be a comprehensive inventory of human rights organizations in sub-Saharan Africa. Due to resource constraints we were not able to include in the project all of the countries in the region. However, since human rights organizations in the region have difficulty communicating with each other because of language barriers reflecting the countries' varying colonial pasts, we made a particular effort to ensure that anglophone, francophone and lusophone countries were all represented, and that the report would be available in both French and English. Because of limited resources, researchers could also visit each country for only a limited period of time and were generally unable to meet with all of the human rights organizations in a country. Thus, this report should thus be understood as presenting something more in the nature of a "big picture", a broad overview, rather than a detailed survey. To extend the metaphor, the report can be seen as a "snapshot", a quick picture of the countries and organizations taken at a specific point in time--between November 1993 and March 1994, the period during which researchers travelled to the various countries. Needless to say, the situation has already changed significantly in some of these countries, most notably South Africa and Rwanda.

We will distribute the report not only to national organizations in sub-Saharan Africa, but also to other international donor agencies and NGOs. A number of these organizations and institutions were helpful to the project, particularly in the preparatory stages when we were gathering preliminary information about organizations in different countries in sub-Saharan Africa. We appreciate their assistance and are sending the report to them in the hope that it will provoke some serious discussion and initiatives on a number of the critical issues identified in the report.

As project sponsors we owe our greatest thanks to the nine very competent researchers who, out of a deep commitment to the development of human rights organizations in sub-Saharan Africa, have given generously of their time, energy and focused attention throughout the past year. They have worked in a collaborative and good-humored spirit that has been a privilege to experience. Although this report is a collective effort, each researcher has assumed responsibility for the accuracy of country reports to which his or her name is attached. The researchers are:

Olisa Agbakoba, Co-founder and President of the Civil Liberties Organisation, Nigeria;

Nana K.A. Busia, Jr., formerly Programme Officer, International Human Rights Procedures and NGO Affairs, The African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies, Gambia ;

Richard Carver, journalist in the United Kingdom, and consultant to a number of international human rights organizations, including Africa Watch and Article XIX;

Seny Diagne, lawyer, Senegal and member of the Executive Committee of Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF);

Peter Fry, Professor in the Social Science Department, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil;

Binaifer Nowrojee, lawyer from Kenya, currently Graduate Senior Fellow at Harvard Law School and previously Director of the Africa program at the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, USA;

Clement Nwankwo, Founder and Executive Director of the Constitutional Rights Project, Nigeria;

Joe Oloka-Onyango, Faculty of Law, Makerere University, Uganda, and Coordinator, HURIPEC;

Peter Rosenblum, Senior Legal Officer with the International Human Rights Law Group, USA.

We are also grateful to Danida which provided funding to support IHRIP staff work and travel on the project.

We look forward to learning about your reactions to and comments on the report.

Birgitta Berggren
Secretary General
Swedish NGO Foundation for Human Rights

D.J. Ravindran
Chair, Advisory Board and Ann Blyberg
Executive Director
International Human Rights Internship Program

September 1994

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