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U.S.-Africa Civil Society Forum: Recommendations for engagement on the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit


U.S.-Africa Civil Society Forum: Recommendations for engagement on the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit

U.S.-Africa Civil Society Forum: Recommendations for engagement on the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit
Credit: The White House

The upcoming U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit, taking place from August 4-6, provides an important opportunity for the United States government and African heads of state to engage in discussions that will shape the future of U.S.-Africa relations. While topics of trade, security, and economic development will feature prominently on the agenda, it is critical that Leaders attending the Summit also use the opportunity as a platform to address the human rights and democratic governance challenges that beset Africa. Given that these issues underpin longtime and broader development concerns in Africa, we believe that civil society must be given the opportunity to participate in the official Leaders’ Summit proceedings as equal stakeholders in Africa’s future.

In order to advocate for the inclusion of civil society voices in the Leaders’ Summit, Amnesty International USA, Freedom House, Front Line Defenders, Open Society Foundations, and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights organized the U.S.-Africa Civil Society Forum, which convened leading African human rights defenders in Washington, D.C. from June 18-20. Forum participants focused on three broad themes: the rule of law, transparency and accountability, and discrimination against marginalized groups. Participants then formulated the following Plan of Action, which both highlights key concerns that should be integrated into the Leaders’ Summit and offers concrete policy recommendations that recognize the inherent links between respect for human rights and broader development objectives.

The Rule of Law

Establishing and defending the rule of law is a critical part of Africa’s social, political and economic development. Countries that foster the creation of just legal environments ensure predictability in the enforcement of laws and afford confidence that the rights of individuals and communities will be respected. This in turn encourages investment and spurs economic development. Independent judiciaries and legal systems also allow marginalized citizens to seek redress through legal means rather than through violence and unrest, thereby decreasing instability. Recognizing these factors, it is imperative that the United States and African governments work to promote, enforce, and comply with the principles and commitments they have made to promote a strong rule of law throughout Africa.

Priority Issue 1:

Compliance by African governments with local, sub-regional, continental, and international norms and obligations.

Recommendations to U.S. Government:

As part of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) reauthorization, include eligibility criteria regarding judicial and legislative independence, support for regional court bodies and acceptance of their decisions, and harmonization of local laws with international and regional human rights and good governance norms/treaties. These include the Protocol on the Establishment of the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.

As part of counterterrorism assistance, ensure that assistance promotes the rule of law and condition all U.S. counterterrorism assistance on security forces’ adherence to rule of law. This includes ensuring recipients of assistance are not using counterterrorism laws to willfully impinge on the rights of citizens.

Be more transparent about where U.S. counterterrorism assistance is going, its intended purpose, and who the specific recipients are.

Include compliance with human rights and good governance norms/treaties as part of the Public Financial Management Risk Assessment Framework.

Recommendations to African Heads of State:

Domesticate and give full effect to local, regional, continental, and international human rights conventions, protocols and treaties to ensure enactment of laws that are just and further the collective interests of the people.

Demonstrate strong Leaders’hip at the regional level to ensure all regional and continental courts in Africa are empowered to uphold the rule of law and unencumbered by political interference. For instance, members of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) should restore the SADC Tribunal to its former status as an operational court.

Comply with and enforce mutually agreed upon rulings from local, regional and continental courts, including the African Court and sub-regional courts of the Southern Africa Development Community, Economic Community of West African States, and the East African Community.

Ratify the Protocol on the Establishment of the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights and submit the Article 34(6) declaration allowing access to the Court for individuals who are the victim of the human rights abuses.

Recommendations for Civil Society:

Review gaps in legal frameworks in terms of state compliance with local, regional, continental, and international treaties/commitments and collaborate with legislatures and judicial bodies to help domesticate these treaties/commitments into national law.

Monitor state implementation of local, regional, continental, and international treaties/commitments in order to better advocate for state compliance.

Priority Issue 2:

Strengthen independence of African judiciaries.

Recommendations to U.S. Government:

Provide multi-year, sustained support for access to justice/judicial independence programs both for state bodies and civil society.

In conjunction with counterterrorism and military/police assistance, provide support for justice and accountability mechanisms, such as human rights commissions, parliamentary oversight committees, and ombudsmen.

Recommendations to African Heads of State:

Protect the administrative, budgetary, operational, and political autonomy guaranteed to judiciaries under constitutions and legal frameworks.

Empower judiciaries to develop and enforce ethical standards for judicial officers and candidates without executive interference or political pressure. These efforts will help reduce levels of corruption among judiciaries.

Establish and safeguard independent systems for vetting judicial candidates to ensure professional and ethical standards within the judiciary.

Recommendations for Civil Society:

Engage in monitoring of judicial vetting processes and advocate for broader societal representation on bodies appointing judges.

Become more systematic and fact based when analyzing performance of the judiciary. This will enable civil society to advocate for the integrity of the judiciary, and, when needed, defend unpopular court decisions that demonstrate judicial independence.

Advocate for national support of regional and continental courts and their decisions.

Priority Issue 3:

Increase access to justice for all people.

Recommendations to U.S. Government:

Provide financial and technical support for regional courts to strengthen the rule of law and legal predictability. This will assist with financial and trade integration within sub-regions as well as afford additional protection against human rights abuses.

Provide financial and technical support for civil society to engage in monitoring and reporting on judicial independence and increasing access to justice for individuals.

Recommendations to African Heads of State:

Support functional regional courts with individual human rights mandates.

Repeal archaic and repressive laws and introduce and enforce positive legislation that protects non-state actors, including civil society, media, and human rights defenders.

Domesticate and implement the African Union’s guidelines on ‘The Right to Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa.’

Strengthen state provisions on legal aid and support complementary initiatives by civil society and independent watchdog institutions, such as human rights commissions and ombudsman’s offices, to provide legal assistance to people in need.

Recommendations for Civil Society:

Provide legal assistance to expand existing state legal aid programs and encourage the provision of pro-bono legal aid and legal community service by lawyers.

Support alternative justice mechanisms, such as traditional courts, and help ensure that these mechanisms comply with human rights norms.

Corruption and Transparency

Effectively managing Africa’s public wealth requires transparent, inclusive, and well-performing institutions. This is particularly true in natural resource sectors, where revenue streams are central to many of the continent’s economies and help to fund important poverty alleviation programs. Many African governments have demonstrated their commitment to improving governance through the ratification of transparency and anti-corruption mechanisms, including the African Mining Vision (AMV), the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, and the African Peer Review Mechanism. Despite such commitments, there remains a need to move from rhetoric to effective implementation. Poor Leaders’hip and lack of political will to implement reforms hold a number of states and their populations back. Africa has registered tremendous growth, but it has at the same time recorded limited prosperity, due largely to opacity of public institutions, a lack of accountability, and poor governance. 

Priority Issue 1:

Strengthen governance architecture through the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) and other continentally driven initiatives.

Recommendations to U.S. Government:

Add indicators of APRM to Millennium Challenge Corporationcriteria and push for reviews of national implementation action plans of the APRM.

Provide financial and techncial support to local civil society groups to better enable them to engage in APRM review process.

Include African Mining Vision in trade policy relating to Africa including AGOA renegotiation, regional trade policy and bilateral investment treaties.

Recommendations to African Heads of State:

Revive the APRM process and resume country reviews.

Redesign the APRM questionnaire with explicit involvement for civil society organizations.

Commit to implementing and monitoring progress towards implementation of APRM national action plans.

Recommendations to Civil Society:

Commit to deeper involvement in, and monitoring of, the APRM process.

Break down barriers between sectors and promote linkages between social justice, human rights, development planning and economic development.

Priority Issue 2:

Combat corruption in trade and investment.

Recommendations to U.S. Government:

Require U.S. registered companies to disclose payments to governments on a project-by-project basis.

Create a public registry of beneficial ownership of U.S. registered corporations.

Provide increased finanical resources and assistance to support African governments on Anti-Corrpution Commissions and strategic planning on natural resource governance.

Support targeted sanctions for officials indicted for corruption.

Recommendations to African Heads of State:

Sign and ratify the AU Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (AUCPCC) and implement through corresponding legislation.

Establish and support independent and effective Anti-Corruption Commissions as articulated in the AUCPCC.

Enact and implement access to information legislation in accordance with standards establsihed by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Develop and implement legislation on asset disclosure for public officials.

Ensure the active and meaningful participation of civil society and affected communities in development planning.

Recommendations for Civil Society:

Support the use of freedom of information laws where they exist and push for passage where they do not.

Commit to building capacity to implement and monitor the AUCPCC.

Transparently, effectively, and inclusively manage program resources.

Discrimination against Marginalized Groups

Human rights violations against marginalized groups in Africa often occur because of the failure of governments to act or prevent abuses, violating their duties of due diligence. In other instances, governments are directly involved in discrimination and incite the public to actively marginalize certain populations, often in violation of both their constitutions and regional and international human rights obligations. Discrimination in law and fact against people based on their gender, race, religion, ethnicity, migrant status, sexual orientation, and gender identity remains prevalent throughout Africa, leading to entrenched inequalities and continued violations of human rights. These abuses often lead to social and political instability and have led to rising economic inequity across Africa, as marginalized groups are frequently denied economic opportunities.

Priority Issue 1:

Promote diversity and secure the safety of the individual.

Recommendations to U.S. Government:

Allow U.S. ambassadors to play more of a Leaders’hip role and provide specific instructions for them to work publicly with human rights defenders and state institutions that are designed to protect human rights. Ambassadors should also encourage these institutions to engage with and work more constructively with domestic civil society.

Encourage countries that have poor human rights records at home, but which are supporting the U.S. in the fight against terrorism in their regions, to uphold basic human rights through both public and diplomatic channels.

Target perpetrators of serious human rights abuses by means of “smart sanctions” that are targeted and do not affect ordinary citizens; for example, recent U.S. sanctions on Ugandan officials and long-standing sanctions against Zimbabwe.

USAID should increase long-term support to access for justice initiatives. Funding must be increased in order to boost civil society capacity and thus strengthen the rule of law.

Recommendations to African Heads of State:

Pass and enforce laws that recognize diversity in society, which is particularly important in the case of transitional societies and emerging democracies involved in constitution-making processes. In addition, repeal all laws that encourage discrimination, for example, laws that target sexual minorities in the cases of Uganda, Nigeria and others.

Institute social programs that lead to the social recognition of marginalized groups and minorities, for example, by introducing relevant education measures in schools.

Ensure defense against hate crimes; this issue needs to be interrogated and mechanisms need to be established so as to prevent these crimes in the future.

Ensure that governments and heads of state meet their regional and international legal obligations to protect the security of the individual, as guaranteed in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and a host of international legal conventions, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Recommendations for Civil Society:

Advocate on behalf of an individual’s right to choice and to be treated with dignity.

Collaborate to educate populations about the importance of protecting equality of the person. Civil society must demand that individual choice is respected and hold political Leaders’ to account for deviating from this responsibility.

Priority Issue 2:

Ensure inclusion and equality in decision-making processes, including participation in security and peace, growth and development, anti-corruption and good governance initiatives.

Recommendations to U.S. Government:

Recognize that discrimination and marginalization of minorities is a symptom of a lack of good governance. Similarly, the U.S. must help ensure participation of marginalized groups in broader development and governance conversations, taking into account civic voices outside of capitals and those from under-resourced groups.

Ensure that the issue of marginalized groups is mainstreamed in all instruments of political, technical and financial cooperation with African governments; for example, by means of targeting projects that enhance gender equality during AGOA renewal.

Support initiatives that better protect economically disadvantaged populations and mitigate rising inequality, which often leads to social and political instability.

Increase USAID technical support and capacity building efforts to local civil society actors and the media to help these stakeholders unpack the budgeting process, so that authorities are held accountable and marginalized communities better protected.

Support and better publicize projects through local embassies and USAID Missions that ensure equality; for example, the annual International Woman of Courage Award

Recommendations to African Heads of State:

Guarantee that human development initiatives fulfill social safeguard standards; for example, indicators used by the World Bank. Social safeguards must be fully enacted with the full and equal participation of impacted communities.

Enact specific policies and laws that are targeted at the inclusion of marginalized groups; for instance, ensuring the full participation of women in all governance and political processes, as well as appointments to Leaders’hip positions.

Improve transparency by holding one another accountable, on both the local and national level, so that state expenditures on development programs are transparent and measurable.

Recommendations for Civil Society:

Engage more constructively and proactively with traditional Leaders’ to assert the importance of “living law”; this conversation should inform traditional authorities about international human rights norms and how they might complement customary law at the local level.

Recognize fully and publicly the equality of the person within civil society and undertake efforts to promote the voices of typically marginalized groups, even within civil society, including women and LGBT rights activists.

Priority Issue 3:

Guarantee freedom of expression and association.

Recommendations to U.S. Government:

Increase funding for civil society organizations whose mandate is specifically to promote human rights, democracy and good governance.

Promote public solidarity with marginalized groups and the civil society organizations advocating on their behalf; for instance, including civil society as equal stakeholders in the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit, as well as all future official gatherings.

Encourage U.S. ambassadors and embassy staff to play more of a Leaders’hip role in promoting basic human rights. Ambassadors should have a public mandate to work with civil society, implement that mandate, and provide development support directly to civil society.

Recommendations to African Heads of State:

Protect the enabling environment and respect the legitimacy of civil society and marginalized groups by removing restrictive legislation that violates international legal standards.

Address manipulation by means of government organized non-governmental organizations (GONGOs), which serve to discredit the independence of civil society.

Increase access to information and create protection mechanisms for both lawyers and journalists; in other words, for those who defend human rights defenders.

Work with the African Union to publicly and consistently acknowledge the sanctity of diversity and explicitly recognize the equality of all citizens – regardless of gender, sexual identity, or otherwise – in its charter and public statements.

Recommendations for Civil Society:

Listen to people on the ground; for example, those working at community-based organizations in order to build awareness and better enable grassroots participation in decision-making processes.

Facilitate responsiveness to local voices, thereby cultivating better solidarity and cooperation across traditional civil society sectors. Civil society should be proactive, and not only convene when invited by donors or the international community.

Work together on the national stage to not allow a given country’s human rights and broader development agendas to be donor-driven, or otherwise manipulated.


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