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The United Nations and African Union Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders conclude their joint visit to the Republic of Togo

4 August 2008

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mrs. Margaret Sekaggya, and the African Union Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders in Africa of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Mrs. Reine Alapini-Gansou issued the following joint statement on the preliminary findings of their official visit to the Republic of Togo.

The United Nations and African Union Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders conducted an official joint mission to Togo from 28 July to 4 August 2008 at the invitation of the Government of Togo.

The Special Rapporteurs express their sympathy with the Government and people of Togo for the human casualties, the displacement of the population, the loss of property and the destruction of infrastructure caused by the major floods that have affected the country since last week.

The Special Rapporteurs thank the Government for extending to them the invitation and for its cooperation during their mission despite the natural disaster. The Special Rapporteurs also thank the Representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Togo and his staff for the support provided in organizing the visit.

The purpose of the visit was to assess the situation of human rights defenders in the light of the principles set forth in the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1998, and in the Declaration of Grand Bay adopted in 1999 and the Declaration of Kigali in 2003. An examination of the legal framework in the country, the institutional policies and the mechanisms for promotion and protection of human rights were of particular importance to this assessment.

During the mission, the Special Rapporteurs visited Lomé, Kpalimé (Kloto prefecture) and Aneho (Lakes prefecture). Because of the floods, the Special Rapporteurs were unable to access Kara as initially planned. They met with the President, the Prime Minister, other senior government officials, members of the judiciary and of the National Assembly, members of the main political parties, and with representatives of institutions concerned with the protection of human rights in the capital and in the two prefectures. They also held meetings with representatives of United Nations and regional human rights and development agencies, and representatives of diplomatic missions.

The Special Rapporteurs further met a large segment of the civil society and human rights defenders engaged with a wide range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. These included members of non-governmental organizations, women human rights defenders, journalists, trade unionists, and lawyers.

Togo is a country in political transition and, as a consequence, the prospects for the promotion and protection of human rights are improving. Following the death of President Eyadema Gnassingbe in February 2005 and the subsequent series of acts of violence that marred the country, a conducive environment in which human rights defenders can operate has progressively emerged. The Special Rapporteurs note that:
· The Government acknowledges the occurrence of past human rights violations and is making efforts to address them;
· Attacks and acts of intimidation against human rights defenders have significantly reduced in number;
· A number of activities of promotion and protection of human rights have been undertaken by the Ministry for Human Rights and Consolidation of Democracy and the National Human Rights Commission which has recently re-acquired A-status in accordance with the Paris Principles;
· Reforms of the judicial system are being undertaken through the programme of modernization of the justice system.

The Special Rapporteurs welcome the active role played by the diplomatic missions and the regional and other United Nations agencies in supporting these reforms and in carrying out human rights activities.

However, human rights defenders are still faced with a series of challenges that impede their legitimate activities. A major concern is the ongoing stigmatization by some authorities of defenders who are seen as belonging to the political opposition. This misperception, more acute outside the capital, generates a climate of mistrust between the State authorities and human rights defenders. In addition, civil society at large is fragmented and lacks coordination.

Another concern are the delays by the authorities in delivering to non-governmental organizations the registration certificate (“récipissé”) which grants them legal personality. Such delays are problematic in that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are required by donors to produce this certificate in order to receive funding, and without it they cannot file a complaint before a court. Some NGOs are even prevented from operating outside the capital in the absence of this certificate.

The Special Rapporteurs further note that freedom of opinion and expression in some instances has been arbitrarily curtailed by the High Authority of Audiovisual and Communication (HAAC) when journalists have criticized the Government.

The Special Rapporteurs express concern as well at the plight of women human rights defenders whose activities are often hindered by the authorities and who are vulnerable to criticism and ostracism among their own communities.

Of concern is also the lack of funding of the Ministry of Human Rights and Consolidation of Democracy and the National Human Rights Commission, and the misconception of the role of the Commission by both State authorities and the civil society.

Finally, the issue of impunity for past human rights abuses has been raised with the delegation. Such impunity has to be addressed thoroughly in the near future through the establishment of a Commission for Truth, Justice and Reconciliation. Justice for past abuses is crucial for sustaining peace and for encouraging and uplifting the work of human rights defenders.

The Special Rapporteurs wish to make the following preliminary recommendations:

To the Government and relevant State actors:
- Take concrete steps to give legitimacy to human rights defenders -within the capital and in the regions- by removing the stigmatization of being accused of affiliation to political parties;
- Continue to ensure that human rights defenders operate within a conducive environment;
- Enhance the capacity of human rights defenders;
- Speed up the delivery of the registration certificate to NGOs in order to facilitate their activities;
- Ensure the removal of all obstacles that impede the activities of women human rights defenders and take proactive measures to support their work;
- Strengthen the capacity and the visibility of the Ministry of Human Rights and Consolidation of Democracy and the Nation Human Rights Commission;
- Sensitize police, gendarmerie and military officers as well as judicial and prosecution officials on the role and activities of human rights defenders and the National Human Rights Commission;
- Ensure that HAAC lays out the criteria under which the various organizations are assessed and that its actions are fair and transparent;
- Make the fight against impunity for violations against human rights defenders a priority;
- Implement the Global Political Agreement, in particular the provisions on the respect for human rights;
- Fully involve human rights defenders in the reconciliation process;
- Fully involve human rights defenders in the monitoring of the 2010 presidential elections.

To the international community and donors:
- Support the transition process until the end and continue supporting human rights defenders, both in terms of funding and capacity building.

To human rights defenders:
- End the fragmentation of the human rights defenders community and come up with a single strong voice;
- Improve coordinating networks aimed at strengthening the protection of defenders, particularly those outside the capital;
- Expand capacity among defenders in the capital and in the regions to make full use of the existing national and international human rights mechanisms and institutions.

To all stakeholders:
- Carry out country-wide civic education to enhance the appreciation of the activities of human rights defenders;
- Disseminate the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights within the context of their 10th and 60th anniversary respectively.

The Special Rapporteurs will present their reports separately to the United Nations Human Rights Council and the African Commission of Human and Peoples’ Rights, and will make detailed recommendations for the consideration of the Government and other stakeholders.