2020 Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Summit
“Building Back Better: Expanding the Civic Space and Enhancing Resilience of Human Rights Defenders During and Post COVID-19: – A Special Focus on Womxn and Traditionally Marginalized Groups”
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As part of commemorating the International Human Rights Defenders Day, the International Human Rights Day and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) in partnership with Amnesty International – Southern Africa and Advancing Rights in Southern Africa (ARISA) will convene a high-level regional conference themed – Building Back Better: Expanding the Civic Space and Enhancing Resilience of Human Rights Defenders During and Post COVID-19, – with a Special Focus on Womxn and other Vulnerable Group” from December 1-2 , 2020.
As the year 2020 is coming to an end, the Regional Convening will take the opportunity to analyse how civic space has evolved since the start of COVID-19, and also identify ways in which Human Rights Defenders (HRDs), civil society representatives, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), regional and international mechanisms and various other stakeholders, can work together in monitoring and advancing the protection of civic, democratic and civil society space. In addition, this conference will critically reflect on the HRDs Response, Recovery and Resilience (RRR) strategies and tactics in the context of shifting civic space during COVID-19 epoch.
Purpose of the Convening:
The year 2020 has been marked with severe challenges for a global society that is already grappling with realising the full enjoyment of basic human rights and freedoms of every person. Since early February 2020, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic caused most countries to implement restrictions that were primarily meant to save and protect the livelihoods of many ordinary people. However, what followed was a global trend where a majority of State authorities undertook far-reaching decisions that were used as an excuse and justification to overburden an already shrinking civic, democratic and civil society space. In most countries, governments adopted laws and practices that are likely to have long-term repercussions not only on specific groups such as Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), but also the general population at large.
Since the start of the pandemic, a lot of countries mainly focused their attention on introducing severe limitations on the rights to freedom of assembly and other civil and political rights, which led to an increase in human rights violations and draconian measures against civil society. In most countries, the limitation of several rights was mainly enforced by the military and through the use of violent repression that saw the killings and vicious attacks of thousands of people across the globe. Furthermore, the right to freedom of expression has negatively affected the public sphere’s mode of communication through various social media platforms. For instance, a lot of countries adopted legal measures that prohibit the dissemination of supposedly false or misleading information, leading to the arrest of many people.
In addition to the far-reaching restrictions on civic space, governments and other actors have seen this moment as an opportunity to increase its attack on HRDs, who have become an easier target as a result of the isolation that is accompanied by the loss of protective resources and the lack of media coverage to their situation. In several countries, HRDs have been increasingly subjected to killings, unlawful deprivation of liberty, abductions, torture, and other forms of intimidation by both State and non-State actors. The situation of womxn human rights defenders (WHRDs) has also exacerbated during this pandemic, with particular effects such as the additional burden of care, making it harder for them to defend their safety.
The SAHRDN has also noted from applications for protection made that the threats to HRDs is both online and offline especially in countries experiencing democratic regression in Southern Africa. The protection of physical and digital space and rights is therefore of increasing importance in the future including for WHRDs as the digital penetration increases.
The impact of the non-state actors especially economic players mainly in the extractive sector as threat multipliers to HRDs especially indigenous/environmental HRDs is increasing across the whole of Southern Africa. The cold blooded murder of grandmother and WHRD Fikile Ntshangase in her home in October 2020 in Kwazulu Natal (KZN) South Africa is one example of such threats.
In recognising the broad restrictions that the imposed lockdown measures has had on the ability of civil society and HRDs to fully participate in and monitor government activities, the regional convening will imagine how adequate civic space and the protection of human rights can still be achieved in times of great public health crisis.
As part of commemorating 75 years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the regional convening will bring together HRDs, civil society groups and other relevant stakeholders who are committed to fighting against the current restraints of human rights activism.
It is hoped that by the end of the convening, participants would have been able to identify ways in which we can create more sustainable and inclusive solutions of how civic space can thrive even during unprecedented times.
Please download the agenda below
#Together We Defend