By Patience Loum
International and Local Human Rights Organisations converged at the Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara International Conference Center on 19th October 2022 ahead of the 73rd Public Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights. The organisations present include the Network of African National Human Rights (NANHRI), the Gambia’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) and the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR).
The theme for this gathering was “Trade and Human Rights in the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement: Inclusive Implementation of the AfCFTA with participation of vulnerable populations”.
The objective of the forum was to provide a platform for African National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), the ACHPR, and the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to showcase the International human rights mechanisms it supports. The forum also afforded key stakeholders the opportunity to discuss human rights and right to development approaches to the implementation of the AfCFTA with a key focus on vulnerable and minority groups who are likely to be disproportionately affected.
NANHRI believes that while the adoption and ratification of the AfCFTA is a step in the right direction towards achieving an integrated market in Africa, there are concerns that national negotiations and implementation plans have continued to exclude key human rights actors.
Business and Human Rights
The African Union Draft Policy Framework on Business and Human Rights which has been under review for almost a decade has been the subject of national consultations with stakeholders in only two African countries, namely Kenya and Uganda. Countries that have conducted the reviews have progressed to adopt the National Action Plans (NAPs) for implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).
Although only two countries have adopted the NAPs so far, other countries like Senegal, Liberia and Ghana are already working on their NAPs. This means that more than 85 per cent of African countries are lagging behind says NANHRI.
To urge more countries to get on board, NANHRI is calling on African Union member states and their agencies to accelerate the conclusion and adoption of the AU policy framework on Business and Human Rights. The Policy will help provide a binding legal basis requiring business entities to guarantee the enjoyment of human rights in all aspects of their work.
“Businesses have been some of the greatest violators of human rights today. These important negotiations cannot and must not happen without reference to human rights. And a discussion on human rights cannot happen in the absence of NHRIs,” noted the statement issued by NANHRI.
The statement also calls for the member states to work with the NHRIs in developing NAPs for the implementation of the United Nations General Principles on Business and Human Rights. “The States must set aside funds for implementation of NAPs for protection, remedy and respect for business and human rights”.
NANHRI says that while it is a state obligation to promote and protect human rights, tenets of good governance call for complementarity between and among state and non-state stakeholders.
“Failure to accommodate diversity from interested parties not only violates the human rights principle of non-discrimination but also raises suspicion of government and enterprises’ intention to work in isolation under limited or no accountability”.