Profile of Pedan Marthe Coulibaly, human rights defender from Côte d’Ivoire

May 27, 2016

Pedan Marthe Coulibaly human rights defender Côte d'Ivoire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pedan Marthe Coulibaly, human rights defender from Côte d’Ivoire

Ms Pedan Marthe Coulibaly is the national coordinator of the “Coalition Ivoirienne des défenseurs des droits humains” (human rights defenders coalition from Côte d’Ivoire). She was part of the NGO delegation sent by ISHR to participate in the 58th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. On 11 April 2016 ISHR published the following interview on her work

The Coalition Ivoirienne des Défenseurs des droits humains (CIDDH) was founded in 2004 and gathers together more than a dozen national civil society organisations. Its two main missions are to protect human rights defenders and to promote their rights. This work mostly involves raising awareness of and increasing the capacity of defenders to make use of human rights protection mechanisms. A founding member of the Centre féminin pour la démocratie et les droits humains (Women’s centre for democracy and human rights) in Côte d’Ivoire, Ms Coulibaly has been advocating for human rights in general, and women’s rights in particular, for over a decade. She started engaging on these issues immediately after graduating, when she realised that during the 2002 national crisis women were among the most exposed to human rights violations.

What does the coalition do?

The first activity of CIDDH is to ‘connect with the member organisations on a regular basis and seek information about the realities of their work’. The aim is to stay in tune with the challenges facing grassroots human rights defenders and, when needed, to identify ways of assisting them.

When informed about a difficulty facing a defender, the coalition carries out a risk analysis of the situation. If the risk is deemed high, the coalition can decide to alert partners, such as the West African human rights defenders network; send communications to the United Nations and African Commission Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders; or collect resources among its network in order to ‘move the defender to a safe place’.  Sometimes, the coalition may also publish press releases for distribution at press conferences.

Who are the most exposed defenders in Côte d’Ivoire? 

Given her pivotal role within CIDDH, Ms Coulibaly has been able to identify some of the most at risk defenders in Côte d’Ivoire, who are typically those working on sensitive issues, such as extractive industries. 

‘When they go to the field, defenders working on extractive industries are often forced to hide their true identity and the name of their organisations. (…) They can be subject to intimidations or threats from industries, sometimes with the support of administrative authorities.’

Defenders who question certain cultural practices, such as female genital mutilation, are also often the targets of  hostile community reactions.

The role of the coalition in the development of the HRD law

CIDDH was at the frontline throughout the drafting and adoption process of the recent law on human rights defenders in Côte d’Ivoire. The coalition was first invited by the Ministry of Human Rights to participate in the validation session of the draft law. CIDDH then initiated an intensive advocacy campaign to ensure the recommendations and concerns they shared at the validation session had been taken into account.

CIDDH also intended to check if the parliamentarians targeted during the advocacy campaign had appropriated the recommendations as their own and shared them during the adoption process. One of the concerns exposed by the coalition was the need to include the notion of ‘threat’ in the list of dangers facing women human rights defenders. This concern was duly included in the adoption process. Regretfully, the coalition’s opposition to the obligation for human rights defenders to submit annual reports to the State fell on deaf ears.

The coalition subsequently attended, as an observer, the parliamentary session to adopt the law, where they were relieved to witness that most of the recommendations made by human rights defenders had been retained.

Following the adoption, CIDDH focused on training human rights defenders so they could get to know the content of the law and ‘make it theirs so as to promote their own rights’. The coalition intends to continue advocating for the adoption of an implementation decree for the law, as well as for an implementation mechanism to be put in place.  

More proactivity for better protection 

While recognising the crucial role of ‘emergency funds’ provided by partners such as Frontline Defenders when defenders’ rights are violated, Ms Coulibaly insists on the need for and the difficulty in achieving a more proactive approach.

 ‘We should not wait to see real dangers before starting to collect resources to protect defenders (…) If the coalition had permanent resources for a staff member dedicated to the protection of defenders, this would make the work of defenders a lot easier.’

Ms Coulibaly also calls for the international community to step in for the protection of human rights defenders. She stresses that ‘collaboration with the international community should go beyond exchange of information, communications or reports’ and take the form of ‘concrete measures’ to protect defenders.

Putting defenders at the heart of the African Year of Human Rights

With 2016 being declared the African Year of Human Rights by the African Union there is an opportunity to make an assessment of the situation of human rights defenders in Africa, says Ms Coulibaly. The progress made to date and remaining challenges should be identified. It is also essential that each country sets up strategies to implement laws protecting human rights and that these laws have a real effect on the ground.  

‘It is a real problem: protocols are being adopted, legal instruments are being adopted, but these documents have no impact on real life. No one can feel any change.’

Source: Defender profile : Pedan Marthe Coulibaly, woman human rights defender from Côte d’Ivoire | ISHR

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