Situation Analysis: Despite some positive normative developments, including the adoption of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and its two Protocols relating to the establishment of an African Regional Court and to the Rights of Women, human rights violations continue with impunity throughout a large part of the continent. The many protracted conflicts, high levels of illiteracy and poverty (of the 48 countries in the region, 34 are classified as “least developed”), the scourge of HIV/AIDS, widespread corruption, and weak institutions of redress are major obstacles to the full enjoyment of human rights in Africa. Other challenges include ensuring accountability for past crimes (transitional justice) while seeking to secure peace; combating impunity, protecting women, children and other vulnerable groups; ending discrimination; and harmonizing laws and access to justice.
While the number of national human rights institutions and NGOs in the region is increasing, like the governmental structures dealing with human rights issues, they are often weak. Most African countries have ratified the core international human rights treaties; however few have ratified the various optional protocols. The levels of incorporating human rights standards into domestic law, reporting on how the treaties are applied, and implementing treaty-body recommendations are inadequate. Few countries have allowed visits by the special procedure mechanisms.
Often, too, there is no common approach or strategy among national and international actors to strengthen human rights protection at the national level.
The success of OHCHR’s human rights actions in Africa depends on the work of its field offices. Through the activities of human rights units of peacekeeping operations and technical assistance programmes facilitated by field offices at the national and regional levels, OHCHR has been intervening to protect civilians in armed conflicts and providing expertise to strengthen the capacities of the United Nations Country Teams and the ability of government and non-governmental actors to protect human rights.
In 2005, OHCHR had four country offices and three regional offices in Africa and provided support to nine human rights components of DPA and DPKO operations.
Regional Priorities and Strategy: Human rights protection in much of Africa suffers from gaps in knowledge, capacity, commitment, and security. OHCHR’s Africa programme will work to equip policy-makers and key actors with the skills to identify and address human rights problems. It will also support efforts to ensure that individuals/rightsholders are empowered to know their rights and the mechanisms to protect those rights.
OHCHR will enhance its strategic partnerships with United Nations peace missions, United Nations Country Teams, and other national and regional actors, including the organs of the African Union and the regional economic communities to help close the capacity gap. To address the gap in commitment, engagement with individual African governments will be increased to improve implementation of their international human rights obligations. In an effort to close the security gap, OHCHR will focus on ensuring better protection of civilians during armed conflict and better protection from policies that directly threaten their personal security. OHCHR will work to assure that those who violate human rights are identified and brought to justice, and that the victims of human rights abuses or violations of international humanitarian law have access to redress.
OHCHR’s strategy for Africa will focus on the rule of law and administration of justice, human rights and development, discrimination, institutional capacitybuilding, and human security, which involves the issues of trafficking, slavery, and civilians in armed conflict.
In implementing its programme in Africa, the Office will strengthen the capacity of its national and regional offices to respond to the specific challenges in their respective areas. OHCHR will provide greater expert support to the United Nations Country Teams, regional economic communities, and African human rights institutions with the aim of empowering them to strengthen national human rights protection systems. The Office will also provide greater support to human rights components of peace missions in an effort to monitor and report promptly on the human rights situation in the countries where the missions are deployed. A country office will be opened in Togo and a regional office is planned for West Africa.
OHCHR’s field deployment in Africa is projected as follows: