Membership General Consultation, Steering Committee Meeting and Conference on the Impact of COVID-19 on Human Rights Defenders in Africa – 27 – 29 April, 2021

The 2020 ACCA General Assembly did not take place due to the Covid-19 pandemic and related travel restrictions. However, an extra-ordinary hybrid general consultation on the impact of COVID-19 on human rights defenders and general community organizing was held in April 2021.

ACCA in collaboration with one of its members, Groupe de Recherche et de Plaidoyer sur les Industries Extractives (GRIPE) in Ivory Coast, hosted the ACCA’s first in-person event since the outbreak of the Corona virus. The event was organised in a hybrid format and in line with all COVID-19 regulations. The Steering Committee and the Secretariat met in person in Abidjan while ACCA members joined virtually from their respective countries.

The main objective of the consultation was to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the civic space and the work of human rights defenders (HRDs) in general and how the pandemic affected the work of the ACCA member organizations in different regions of the African continent. The consultation highlighted the contribution of human rights accountability mechanisms and the critical role of human rights defenders to enhance corporate accountability in a shrinking civic space. It was a good opportunity to highlight the critical role played by civil society organisations and other institutions to ensure transparent, effective, inclusive and accountable measures in resisting discrimination and addressing inequalities in a post COVID-19 environment.

A keynote address was given by Justice Mukete Tahle Itoe from Global Network for Good Governance, a member organization based in Cameroon. In his keynote, Justice Mukete noted that the advent of COVID 19 pandemic had worsened the situation in the shrinking of civic space, especially in Africa. Lockdowns in Africa were seen to present one of the biggest challenges around CSO and community organising.

However, it was also noted that Covid-19 had taught some lessons to civil society organisations. It was noted that CSO’s should strengthen collaboration through, inter alia, accessible online tools and sharing information which they can implement in their advocacy initiatives. The Keynote Speaker noted that Covid-19 had created a unique position to forge partnerships and strengthen resources and abilities of CSO’s. He encouraged members to build on more partnerships.

During the sharing of regional experiences, it was established that African civil society organizations were facing similar challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic regarding the shrinking of the civic space. Shared concerns around the various Covid-19 related lockdowns were reported. A common factor in these regional experiences was how the pandemic severely affected the ability to mobilize communities which negatively impacted the work of civil society organizations which is closely connected to communities through awareness raising, empowerment and capacity building. Another common denominator observed during  the regional experiences sharing was the fact that several African governments, were manipulating the global crisis to further stifle civic spaces especially those working with communities around democracy, governance and transparency issues within the natural resource exploitation and trade and investment areas. Other issues like mental wellness, shrinking of funding, barriers to advocacy and corporate impunities were noted as further challenges created by the pandemic.

ACCA members shared different strategies which were used to overcome the challenges, including project implementation readjustments to meet public health guidelines, the importance of emergency preparedness strategies as well as the use of digital technology to reach stakeholders and do advocacy. Some participants also noted that support from general and sustainable funding and improvements in legislations were also methods identified as having alleviated the situation of Covid.

The General Consultation highlighted the need to create a sharing platform where members could regularly share experiences and get assistance from each other when faced with similar crises.