AU-EU Meetings Emphasize Cooperation to Protect Human Rights

Participants in the Human Rights DialogueCredit: Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Rwanda
Participants in the Human Rights Dialogue
Credit: Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Rwanda

In November 2015, representatives of African and European intergovernmental organizations and civil society gathered in Rwanda for the 11th African Union – European Union (AU-EU) Human Rights Dialogue, a platform for sharing experiences concerning human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. Participants in the Human Rights Dialogue, which was held in Kigali on November 24, 2015, included the Hon. Justice Augustino S. L. Ramadhani, President of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR); Hon. Madam Zainabu Kayitesi, Commissioner of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR); Ambassador Gary Quince, Head of the EU Delegation to the AU; Ambassador Michael Ryan, Head of the EU Delegation to Rwanda; and other AU and EU staff working on human rights issues. The outcome document summarizes previous and future areas of cooperation between the AU and EU, including protecting the freedom of expression, migrants’ rights, human rights and business, and the abolition of the death penalty. See European Union External Action Service, Joint Communiqué.

Prior to the dialogue, the African Union-European Union Civil Society Seminar on Democratic Governance and Human Rights concluded its 5th seminar in Kigali, Rwanda, during which the civil society experts developed recommendations concerning the protection of freedom of expression, including by ensuring the right to information and access to justice. [AU Press Release: CSOs] The civil society organizations reminded States of their regional human rights obligations, and proposed specific State action and commitments to prioritize human rights and support a robust civil society. See African Union-European Union Civil Society Seminar, Recommendations.


During the 6th EU-Africa Ministerial Troika Meeting in Vienna and the 7th meeting in Brazzaville, Member States of these two intergovernmental organizations decided to implement the annual AU-EU Human Rights Dialogue. The purpose of the dialogue is to implement the AU-EU Action Plan and Joint Strategy with respect to the partnership on Democratic Governance and Human Rights; share challenges and best practices concerning human rights issues, democracy, and the rule of law in Africa and Europe; and foster coordination on human rights issues, including decisions of the UN Human Rights Council. [AU Press Release: Dialogue]

Conclusions from the Human Rights Dialogue

The 11th AU-EU Human Rights Dialogue allowed representatives of AU and EU institutions, including the African continental human rights bodies, to update one another on development in their respective regions and discuss future commitments to advancing human rights and the rule of law in Africa and Europe. This year’s agenda focused particularly on the topics of business and human rights, the death penalty, migration, election observation, impunity, peacekeeping, and freedom of expression. See European Union External Action Service, Joint Communiqué.

Regarding AU and EU efforts on human rights in 2014, the representatives took note of the Human Rights and Business Seminar, which took place in Addis Ababa in September 2014, and focused on the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The representatives also expressed support for the First Continental Conference on the Abolition of the Death Penalty in Africa, which was held in July 2014 and urged States to adopt the Additional Protocol on the Abolition of the Death Penalty in Africa. See id. at 1.

With respect to areas for future cooperation, the AU stated that the Africa 2016 Human Rights Year would focus on the rights of women and includes efforts to urge States to ratify international and regional human rights instruments. Representatives agreed to collaborate on organizing a High-Level Dialogue on the promotion and protection of Human Rights in Africa. See id. at 2-3.

With regard to specific human rights concerns, the AU and EU representatives affirmed their commitment to protecting migrants’ rights, including by trying to expedite the implementation of the action plan of the Valetta Summit of 2015 and continuing the dialogue on migration and mobility. Additionally, the participants agreed to strengthen their commitment to election observation and fighting impunity, including through transitional justice policies. Both the AU and EU also agreed to extend the deployment period of human rights observers in conflict zones so that they could continue to report possible human rights violations. See id. at 2.

Regarding freedom of expression, participants agreed to assist in the development of national action plans for ensuring the safety and security of journalists and freedom of expression advocates, particularly in conflict zones in Africa, as well as to help create a status report on States’ practices concerning access to information, in keeping with the ACHPR’s Model Law for African States on Access to Information. See id. at 3. Based on the recommendations of the AU-EU Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) Seminar on Democratic Governance and Human Rights, the AU and EU agreed to hold a Continental Conference on Freedom of Expression in 2016 and create national plans of action to protect journalists in conflict areas in Africa. They also agreed to commemorate the UN International Day to End Impunity of Crimes against Journalists on November 2, 2016. The representatives noted the importance of the civil society seminar and took its other recommendations concerning freedom of expression into consideration. See id. at 3.

The next Human Rights Dialogue will take place in Europe in 2016. See id.

Conclusions from the Civil Society Seminar 

The 5th AU-EU Civil Society Seminar on Democratic Governance and Human Rights took place from November 20-21, 2015 in Kigali, Rwanda. The seminar brought together experts from Africa and Europe to discuss how to protect and promote freedom of expression; they emphasized that civil society organizations play a necessary role in protecting freedom of expression and made a number of recommendations to the AU and EU. See Africa EU Partnership, Recommendations at 1.

With respect to supporting civil society organizations in the decision-making process to foster a “people-centered” approach to governance, the experts made a number of recommendations, including urging that civil society organizations be given observer status at AU human rights bodies; noting that more support be provided for African special procedures, including the AU special rapporteur on freedom of expression; and suggesting that the African Union Commission create a high-level mandate on human rights which liaises with the EU Special Representative on Human Rights. See id. at 1-2.

Regarding the protection of journalists and ensuring the independence of the media, the experts recommended that States include the protection of journalists and human rights defenders as a component of peacekeeping missions and police reforms; develop national plans of action on the safety of journalists; ensure journalists’ right to protect their sources; and repealing laws that criminalize freedom of expression, including criminal defamation and sedition. The experts also noted that States should promote self-regulation of the media. See id. at. 3.

To promote the right to information and a culture of openness, participating organizations recommended that States amend their right to information laws in accordance with international standards, which would play a role in promoting democracy, human rights, and sustainable development. See id. at 4.

Civil society experts noted the need for States to protect human rights in the digital age, including by providing affordable access to all of the internet at all times; improving appeals processes for privacy and digital rights violations; implementing digital rights training programs for institutions involved with human rights; ensuring that surveillance technologies are regulated to prevent misuse. See id. at 4-5.

The civil society organizations emphasized that freedom of expression cannot exit without access to justice. The experts noted that only 27 AU States have ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and only seven States have made the necessary declaration under article 34.6 of the Charter allowing civil society access to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR). To protect access to justice, the experts made several recommendations, including urging States to ratify the Protocol to the AfCHPR; making the declaration in accordance with the Charter to grant civil society access to the AfCHPR; assenting to the European Convention on Human Rights; and respecting and implementing decisions by human rights bodies concerning freedom of expression. See id. at 5.

Additional Information

For more information on the African human rights system and the European human rights system visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.