Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders
MANDATE OF THE SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
The Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders is one of the special mechanisms overseen by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Special Rapporteurship was created in 2004 during the Commission’s 35th Ordinary Session. See, e.g., ACommHPR, Resolution 69, Resolution on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Africa, 4 June 2004. The mandate was extended in 2014 to create and monitor a database of cases of reprisals against human rights defenders. See ACommHPR, Resolution 273, Resolution on Extending the Scope of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa (2014). The Special Rapporteurship’s purpose is to investigate the situation of human rights defenders in Africa, while developing strategies to increase their protection throughout the African Union (AU) Member States.
COMPOSITION AND WORKING METHODS
The Commission appoints Special Rapporteurs either by a consensus or by a vote. See ACommHPR, Rules of Procedure of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, 2010, Rule 23(2). The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders was originally authorized for two years, but it has been renewed by the Commission several times. See, e.g., ACommHPR, Resolution 69, Resolution on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Africa, 4 June 2004; ACommHPR, Resolution 125, Resolution on the Renewal of the Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa, 28 November 2007. As of October 2014, each individual appointed as Special Rapporteur has been a Commissioner, simultaneously serving on the African Commission.
The Special Rapporteur undertakes a number of duties, including providing guidance on alleged violations, addressing cases of reprisals against human rights defenders, conducting visits to Member States, and promoting the implementation of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in Africa.
Guidance on Alleged Violations
The Special Rapporteur provides the Commission with guidance in responding to communications filed that concern the protection of human rights defenders. The mandate holder may lend expertise or insight during the Commission’s considering of complaints related to his or her mandate.
Cases of Reprisals
The Special Rapporteur’s mandate requires the gathering information on cases of reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society stakeholders. The Special Rapporteur is responsible for creating a database of these cases, effectively addressing them, and following up when necessary.
The Special Rapporteur may handle these cases in a variety of ways, including engaging the State in constructive dialogue, or issuing press releases publicizing the human rights violations. See Reine Alapini-Gansou, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in Africa, Intersession Activity Report, 55th Ordinary Session (2014).
The Special Rapporteur may also propose that the Commission send an urgent appeal to a State concerning a case if it constitutes an emergency matter, as defined in Rule 79 of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure.
Although not explicitly included within the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, the Special Rapporteur has undertaken country visits to Member States, with their consent. During these visits, which are also known as missions, the Special Rapporteur engages with government officials to learn about the challenges human rights defenders face. The Special Rapporteur collaborates with Member States to develop and recommend effective strategies to protect human rights defenders, and to follow up on the implementation of those recommendations.
According to Rule 60 of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure, after the completion of a mission, the Special Rapporteur has a duty to publish a Mission Report, which may be found on its website. These reports contain general recommendations to the State, and often include specific recommendations to the international community and civil society, among others.
The Special Rapporteur is responsible for seeking and receiving information from individuals, governmental and non-governmental organizations and institutions, and other stakeholders concerning cases or situations that involve human rights defenders.
Along with information gathered from such actors and during missions, the Special Rapporteur disseminates and obtains information through promotional activities, such as regional workshops, conferences, and expert meetings. The Special Rapporteur often coordinates these activities with other relevant Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups under the Commission or the United Nations. See, e.g., Reine Alapini Gansou, Intersession Activity Report by Madam Reine Alapini Gansou Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa, Intersession Activity Report, 51st Ordinary Session (2012). The Special Rapporteur has also issued calls for articles and papers on the protection of human rights defenders in Africa.
On the basis of the information received, the Special Rapporteur may propose that the Commission take a certain action or decision, or he or she may raise awareness of an issue in his or her reports, press releases, or other activities.
The Special Rapporteur submits Intersession Activity Reports to the Commission each year, which outline the activities the Rapporteurship has undertaken. The Special Rapporteur has a duty to include reports on cases of reprisals within its Intersession Activity Reports. The Commission also prepares an annual Activity Report that it submits to the African Union Assembly, which includes information gathered from the Special Rapporteur, summarizing positive developments and areas of concern regarding human rights in Africa.
The Special Rapporteur may be contacted by:
Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders
31 Bijilo Annex Layout, Kombo North District
Western Region P.O. Box 673 Banjul
- Email: The Special Rapporteur’s website contains an automated system to send the rapporteur emails, by selecting the “Contact Commissioner” link.
The Special Rapporteur does not accept individual complaints or requests for provisional measures. Such communications must be addressed to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. For additional information, see the Commission’s Guidelines for the Submission of Communications or IJRC’s resources on the African human rights system.