Posts Tagged ‘southern africa’

Profile of Jacobus Witbooi, LGBTI human rights defender from Namibia

August 31, 2016

Profile of Jacobus Witbooi, human rights defender from Namibia, working at the Pan Africa International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (PAI).

In June 2016 he completed ISHR’s Human Rights Defender Advocacy Programme and The Monitor of 27 June contained the following piece:
Jacobus Witbooi knows himself to be an ‘innate activist’ and says that his passion for human rights ‘comes from the inside.’ It has always been a strong part of who he is, taking up the challenge to advocate for those without a voice at a very early age. When still attending school, he recalls campaigning for education on safe sex and sexual health information and advice before it was even considered by national school policy makers.

‘Everyone knew that there were young people having unprotected sex, but they also didn’t have access to condoms, let alone information or advice from community health services about sexual health and safety, especially if they contracted a STI…They felt judged, couldn’t take steps to protect themselves or get help they needed.’

As he matured as a young professional he continued to pursue the issue and played a key role in eventually getting sex education on the national school curriculum in Namibia. He also helped to create a platform for young people to have a say in the design and evaluation of sexual and reproductive health programs, as well as assist health services to provide a caring and sympathetic environment for young people, enhancing accessibility.

Creating a network to drive change

Jacobus’ human rights advocacy journey has brought him to Pan Africa ILGA, a recently formed and rapidly expanding membership-based network for activists working to advance sexual orientation and gender identity rights. He delivers a continent-wide outreach strategy to small, grassroots LGBTI  activists and defenders, helping to develop their skills and confidence to engage with both the UN human rights mechanisms and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission), and grow their ability to achieve meaningful and lasting human rights change.

The issue is close to his heart. He remembers coming out at a time in Namibia when it was unsafe, denied and denounced by all corners of the community.

‘I didn’t feel welcome in my own country, and was told I should leave.’

Whilst Pan Africa ILGA is rapidly expanding – it now has over 100 members – Jacobus is aware of the limitations his service can provide, and the needs of local LGBTI community organisations.

‘There’s a gap between the amount of work we can do to support local human rights activists, and how far we can teach them to carry forward UN outcomes and recommendations into their country.’

But he adds that he refuses to accept that it is a gap that cannot be closed. In May, Jacobus had a key part in delivering the third PAI regional LGBTI conference in South Africa. Bringing together 184 African delegates from over 34 African States, coming together to convene and share strategies, visions and fostering opportunities to collaborate. More encouraging, was the attendance of Government representatives and members of the African Commission, as well as National Human Rights Institutions.

Highlighting this significant social and political development, Jacobus points out that there is a growing support for sexual orientation and gender identity rights on the African continent, and is optimistic for the future of the LGBTI community. However,  he knows there is a lot more work to be done.

‘I think this space we created was critical as a continent – sharing the success stories. But, how do we move this forward, and deal with the intersectionality of sexual orientation and gender identity issues?’

Expanding his human rights advocacy potential

He identified that one way forward for him was to better harness the UN international human rights mechanisms and expand his human rights advocacy potential and successfully applied to participate in the ISHR Human Rights Advocacy Programme.

‘It’s helped me a lot. I’ve broadened my understanding of available UN-mechanisms beyond the Universal Periodic Review alone. I’ve learnt that there is a wide range of approaches to doing human rights advocacy through the UN. This awareness combined with the confidence I’ve now gained will be vital for me on the ground back home.’

He has also noticed his own approach to engaging in human rights advocacy has transformed.

‘I’ve become more strategic now. Because I have a deeper understanding of the UN system, it means that I can use multiple mechanisms to get outcomes, such as the Treaty Bodies and the Special Procedures.’

Contributing to the first UN Resolution on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

With his training coinciding with the 32nd session of the Human Rights Council, Jacobus became heavily involved in contributing to the Working Group advocating and lobbying for a strong resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity. He describes this as,

‘My first real hands on experience advocacy at the Council, working with states delegations and diplomats, trying to bring across an argument that is sensitive and difficult to move on, and coming from a region where it is very difficult to even talk about. It has given me a better understanding of how these things work, what components come into play when these decisions are made.’

Contact: jacobus@panafricailga.org or follow him on Twitter @jacobuswitbooi

Source: Defender profile: Jacobus Witbooi, human rights defender from Namibia | ISHR

Angela Mudukuti, human rights defender from the Southern Africa Litigation Centre

December 28, 2015

Though positive engagement with businesses should be considered a preferred option when it comes to promoting corporate respect for human rights, sometimes the open legal confrontation of human rights violators is the only way to make progress. This is when human rights defenders such as Angela Mudukuti, a lawyer running the International Criminal Justice Programme at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), are critically needed.  The International Service of Human Rights (ISHR) published an interview with her on 27 November 2015.ISHR-logo-colour-high

She defends a holistic approach to justice, where corporate accountability should be sought whenever businesses are involved in violations, regardless of the sectors or human rights affected.  And in cases of complicity in war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity, she says “corporate accountability is important to all the victims”.

Given the weighty consequences they face if their responsibility for such gross violations is revealed, Angela’s experience is that corporate entities are mostly reluctant to facilitate engagement with human rights defenders, making litigation procedures the only way to ensure transparent investigation and accountability. Yet, suing companies and especially major corporations for complicity in gross human rights violations can prove to be dangerous, even for the best-trained defenders. “We work regionally and so we often face regional and local threats. For example: infiltration into your information databases; other security threats which can be physical in nature… corporate entities … have the ‘muscle’ to intimidate you and they will seize any opportunity to do so…

Angela and other members of the SALC team have also experienced personal threats, but she remains positive, seeing these challenges as an “indication that you are doing the right thing” and a part of the burden carried by most human rights defenders in the world. She also highlights that threats do not come only from corporate or government entities, but also from “individuals who disagree” with the work she is doing.

Other practical obstacles can impede SALC’s human rights work such as a lack of access to information to build proper advocacy, and resistance from legal administrative bodies. Yet, this does not prevent SALC from extending their litigation work into advocacy, which is jointly conducted with local organisations throughout Southern Africa: “The first thing is to decide if litigation is viable or if the same results can be achieved by other means. Secondly, should we decide to litigate we need to determine how we can structure the advocacy around it because raising awareness is very important.”

 

Many corporate entities involved in gross human rights violations have transnational activities for which the “ramifications transcend boarders”. This makes the work of corporate responsibility defenders even more challenging, and is one of the reasons why SALC has a regional focus. Angela says the regional nature of violations also demands that the international community “be united and prioritise business and human rights (…) in Southern Africa and in other parts of the developing world”.

The SALC is also looking to address  the devastating environmental implications of various corporate projects.

Follow Angela on Twitter at @AngelaMudukuti.

Defender profile: Angela Mudukuti from Southern Africa Litigation Centre | ISHR

German Foreign Office promotes better networks for human rights in Latin America –

April 24, 2013

Rule of law, freedom of the press, women’s rights – these were just a few of the issues recently discussed at a conference which brought together human rights defenders from Central America and the Caribbean. Twenty human rights defenders from 13 countries and representatives from the German embassies attended the event, which took place from 17 to 18 April in Panama and was organized by the Federal Foreign Office. Also participating were the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, Markus Löning, and the Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Thomas Karl Neisinger.

The discussions were dominated by the key issues affecting the region, such as the rule of law and women’s rights. Special attention was given to the subject of coöperation between embassies and human rights defenders as well as building networks and strengthening regional civil society. Despite the different situations in countries such as Honduras, Costa Rica and Jamaica, many states in the region face similar challenges. Consequently it is especially important to improve civil society networks so that human rights defenders can learn from one another’s experiences and coöperate more closely in the future.

This event was the fourth regional human rights seminar organized by the Federal Foreign Office. This format is to be retained for future events, for example in Southern Africa in June 2013.

Auswärtiges Amt – Latin America – Better networks for human rights.

United Nations starts to open Human Rights Resource Centres in Southern Africa

February 13, 2012

On 10 February 2012, the Regional Office for Southern Africa of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (ROSA) launched a Human Rights Resource Centre at the Oliver Tambo Law Library at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. The inauguration ceremony took place on the occasion of the opening ceremony of the 2012 Class of the LLM in Human Rights and Democratization in Africa, hosted by the Human Rights Centre of the University of Pretoria. The establishment of the Human Rights Resource Centre at the University of Pretoria is part of a larger project whereby ROSA aims to establish human rights resource centres in the Southern African countries overseen by ROSA. The establishment of the next human rights resource centre will be in Maputo, Mozambique, as part of the Human Rights Centre of the Faculty of Law at the Universidade E. Mondlane, and is scheduled to take place in the first quarter of 2012.

via United Nations in South Africa » News Archive » Establishment of The Human Rights Resource Centre at The OLIVER TAMBO Law Library, University of Pretoria, South Africa.