The Status of Human Rights Organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa
Appendix 1


The initial goal of the project to assess the status of human rights organizations in sub-Saharan Africa was to provide the two project sponsors, the Swedish NGO Foundation for Human Rights and the International Human Rights Internship Program, with a more systematically-developed base of information upon which to rely in their own planning, priority-setting and decision-making with respect to Africa. As a result of the specific interests of the two sponsors, the project focuses on the needs of organizations (including training needs) and the existing or potential capacity of organizations to provide training to other organizations.

Project researchers added to this goal their hopes that:

- the results of the project could be made widely available, particularly to organizations in Africa, as a means of informing them about developments in other countries of the region and increasing exchange of experience among them;
- identification of training resources in countries in Africa would increase intra-regional training, and;
- the inclusion of anglophone, francophone and lusophone countries in the project would help break down barriers that have developed among organizations in the three groups of countries as a result of language differences.


The project sought to involve as researchers individuals with in-depth experience with and understanding of the functioning of human rights organizations in sub-Saharan Africa. Such researchers could bring to the project not only the information they gathered from their discussions with organizations, but their own personal insights into the complexities of the situations human rights organizations confront. The individuals generally best able to meet these criteria were those who themselves were active with human rights organizations in different countries in Africa.

The project sponsors enlisted the assistance of several individuals, rather than a single researcher, not only to ensure that a variety of perspectives were incorporated into the research, but because the project was too large for any single "activist" researcher to take on in addition to his or her ongoing work.

The researchers had different backgrounds and areas of concentration, but together brought a broad range of knowledge and expertise to the project. These include direct experience establishing and running a human rights organization in Africa; lengthy experience with and knowledge about human rights and organizations in the countries to be visited; experience with university-based programs with an "activist" bent; and experience in training.

The researchers accepted the following areas of responsibility:

- Olisa Agbakoba and Richard Carver: South Africa

- Nana K.A. Busia, Jr.: Francophone West Africa (Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Senegal)

- Seny Diagne: Francophone West Africa (Benin, Cote d'Ivoire, Mauritania, Togo)

- Peter Fry: Lusophone Africa (Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique)

- Binaifer Nowrojee: Anglophone West Africa (The Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria)

- Clement Nwankwo: East Africa and the Horn of Africa (Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda)

- Joe Oloka-Onyango: Southern Africa (Malawi, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe)

- Peter Rosenblum: Francophone Central Africa (Rwanda, Zaire)


It was envisioned that the project's assessment of the status of human rights organizations in sub-Saharan Africa would be based on researchers' discussions with human rights organizations and activists in the different countries. Since the researchers themselves were based in different countries, the sponsors and researchers agreed to meet both prior to undertaking the research and following their travels in order to coordinate the research. The steps in the project were:

- inventory of existing studies,

- a research planning meeting,

- the research travel,

- a research follow-up meeting, and

- production of this report.


As the first step in the process, the sponsors sent a letter about the proposed project to more than 80 regional and international organizations to determine if any had undertaken or were planning to undertake a similar project. The purpose of the letter was to help ensure that the project would not duplicate work that had already been done or was in process. Based on responses received, it became apparent that no project of a similar nature had been done or was underway.


The research planning meeting was held at the offices of the Swedish NGO Foundation for Human Rights in Stockholm on September 15-17, 1993. The objectives of the meeting were to:

- develop a common understanding of the purpose of the project;

- review available information about needs of organizations/training resources;

- review the countries tentatively selected to be visited, the rationale for inclusion, as well as the situation of human rights organizations in each, and make final decisions on countries to be visited;

- identify and develop a common understanding of likely important areas of needs/training resources to be identified through the project;

- develop a checklist for researchers to use in their discussions with organizations;

- decide on purpose, format and content of researchers' report(s) to be submitted; and

- identify and discuss logistical questions related to research, such as travel arrangements, visas, etc.

Countries to be visited: Project sponsors had previously decided that it would not be possible to include all countries in sub-Saharan Africa in the study and had arrived at a tentative list of 25. The planning meeting discussed criteria for selecting countries to be included, recognizing that some countries that met these criteria would nonetheless be omitted. The criteria agreed upon were:

- a reasonable distribution among anglophone, francophone and lusophone countries;

- the existence or emergence of human rights organizations in the country;

- the degree of feasibility for undertaking research in the country; and

- the availability of the project's human and material resources.

Organizations to be visited: Meeting participants agreed that the goal of the project would be to develop a general picture of the status of human rights organizations in the countries visited rather than an inventory of organizations, and that the project thus should not expect to arrive at a comprehensive survey of organizations in various countries. The following criteria were developed to guide researchers in deciding which organizations to visit: The organizations:

- should promote national and international standards related to civil, political as well as economic, social and cultural rights;

- should be non-governmental organizations (NGOs), although the existence of governmental bodies, such as commissions or ombudsmen, may be taken into account as background information or be a specific subject for focus where they have been particularly active in relating with NGOs;

- may be part of a university, as long as they are involved in "activist" types of programs, or have particularly strong relations with human rights NGOs outside the university;

- should not be political organizations. This would not preclude organizations working for a political cause, but which undertake genuine human rights activities;

- should be engaged in advocacy, monitoring, campaigning, education, documentation or services to victims;

- can include organizations that are not properly human rights organizations, but which may be important in assessing the nature and level of human rights activities in a country, such as law societies, trade unions, journalists' and church organizations, and development organizations with an emphasis on promoting rights;

- could be working with specific groups, such as women, children, refugees, ethnic minorities, where these organizations emphasize a "rights perspective"; and

- can be regional human rights organizations based or headquartered in the country.

It was agreed that the researchers should have an open mind to identify human rights activism, even though the activities might not fit in any of the above categories.

Review of situations in countries to be visited: At the meeting researchers made short presentations on the countries to be included in the project. The presentations addressed:

- the main political, economic and social factors affecting the situation and climate within which human rights organizations have formed and are functioning in the country;

- the human rights situation in the country confronting the organizations; and

- the status of human rights organizations in the country (for example, the number of organizations, foci of work, length of time in existence, stability, and so on).

While quite superficial and preliminary, these presentations enabled meeting participants to develop a better sense of the approach to be taken, issues of which they should be aware, and analyses that would need to be developed in the research and reports. They also helped highlight some factors that appear to have an impact on the development and functioning of human rights organizations in a number of countries as well as some potential common characteristics of organizations in more than one country.

Needs of organizations: The participants brainstormed about the needs of organizations, with a particular focus on the knowledge and skills necessary for an organization to function effectively. The results of the brainstorming were then organized in the form of a "checklist" to assist researchers in thinking through their discussions with organizations. The checklist was not developed into a questionnaire format, since participants felt that a formal questionnaire could hinder the discussion process. Items on the checklist were:

a. Broad needs

i. legal status and a hospitable political environment

ii. continuity of organizational activities, membership

iii. security (local, national, international)

iv. solidarity and access to dialogue, exchanges

b. Knowledge and skills areas necessary for implementation of program and activities (that is, external activities)

i. strategic planning

- contextual (political, social, economic) knowledge and analysis;

- clarity of goals, objectives, and the relationship of activities to these objectives and goals;

ii. knowledge and understanding of international, regional and national human rights standards;

iii. education, teaching, training

iv. community organizing, mobilization, organizing meetings; building constituency and membership

v. fact-finding, research

vi. documentation

- related to fact-finding

- bibliographical

vii. report writing

viii. legal and constitutional knowledge

ix. paralegal work and paralegal training

x. litigation

- strategy

- test cases

- use of international standards

xi. mediation

xii. use of regional and international mechanisms

xiii. legislative and constitutional drafting, lobbying

xiv. policy formulation

xv. networking, strategic alliances, relations with civil society

xvi. elections

- voter education

- monitoring

xvii. campaigning

xviii communication skills; media

xix. medical and/or forensic skills

xx. gender sensitivity

xxi. sound judgment

c. Knowledge and skills areas necessary for internal functioning

i. organizational structure (board, staff)

- board functioning

- board-staff relationships

- staff structure

ii. internal staff processes (decision-making, communication skills, gender sensitivity, etc.)

iii. management skills (planning, personnel relations, etc.)

iv. administrative skills

- documentation/record-keeping

- financial record-keeping, accounting/reporting

- organizing meetings

v. building constituency/membership development

vi. funding (identifying sources, managing)

- local, national

- international

- proposal-writing, report-writing

- understanding donors

- record-keeping and accountability

vii. access to information

viii. equipment and related technical knowledge

ix. sound judgment

Training Resources: The meeting reviewed a checklist of questions to help researchers identify and assess existing training resources. The list included:

a. Does the organization do any training? If so,

i. what type of training?

- formal (seminars, lectures, other structured programs)?

- informal (internships, exposure programs, community legal literacy, other)?

ii. has the organization produced any training aids or publications, such as primers, handbooks, manuals, etc.?

b. What is the purpose of the training?

c. Who is the target of the training?

i. staff, volunteers, members?

ii. other domestic NGOs or individuals?

iii. foreign NGOs or individuals?

d. What is the subject matter of the training?

i. human rights standards and principles?

ii. skills training (fact-finding, documentation, litigation, and so on)?

iii. human rights education?

iv. IGO procedures?

v. other?

e. What is the format and process of the training?

It was more difficult to determine how to assess the potential capacity of an organization to provide training. The following factors were considered relevant:

a. strength and stability of the organization;

b. level of knowledge and skills in the proposed area of training;

c. capacity to design a training program in keeping with a trainee's needs, an understanding of the training process;

d. capacity to provide regular guidance and oversight of the training program;

e. communication skills;

f. space, facilities;

g security;

h. hospitable environment within the host organization.

Country reports: Participants agreed that country reports should:

a. summarize the political, economic and social history and context within which organizations have formed and currently function;

b. describe the nature of human rights violations in the country, providing an assessment of the major violations that organizations in the country are addressing, and the effect the violations have had on the ability of organizations to form and function freely;

c. on the basis of information gathered in discussions with different organizations, identify any characteristics, needs or challenges common to many or all of the human rights organizations in the country;

d. provide more detailed information about the specific organizations visited, including the history of an organization, its current legal status, specific political constraints or risks it faces, its structure (board, staff, volunteers, membership), as well as current areas and extent of activities.


Researchers visited the countries included in the project between September 1993 and March 1994. They tried to meet with the key human rights organizations in the countries, but this was not always possible due to schedule conflicts. In addition, as a result of the large number of human rights groups in some countries and the limited time available within any one country, researchers could not meet with all the organizations in these countries.


Participants reconvened at a research follow-up meeting held in Sigtuna, Sweden March 22-25, 1994. The purpose of this meeting was to review the findings of the research, and, on the basis of these findings, to:

- identify the main factors which have an impact on the development and functioning of human rights organizations in a number of countries;

- identify broad characteristics common to organizations in a number of countries;

- identify main areas of needs, including training needs, specified by organizations;

- identify availability of human rights training resources within sub-Saharan Africa;

- agree on the format for and distribution of the final report; and

- decide on any project follow-up.


This report is the best evidence of the nature of follow-up meeting. Participants only minimally discussed individual country reports, deciding instead to use them as the basis for the analysis of the issues just listed. The results of these discussions are largely reflected in the Overview. The individual country reports developed by researchers are presented sub-regionally. Appendices 2 and 3 were developed on the basis of information submitted by researchers.

As a result of the varying background of the researchers, there are some variations in spelling of certain words in different sections of the report. Some authors have followed British spelling rules, others the rules used in the United States. In the interest of respecting cultural differences, the spelling of such words has generally been left as it was originally submitted by the authors.


Participants discussed follow-up to the project, and agreed that the report should be distributed widely, particularly to human rights organizations in sub-Saharan Africa. The participants believe that the report contains the "germ" of many potential follow-up projects, and that it is most appropriate for the majority of these projects to be initiated by human rights groups in sub-Saharan Africa.

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