The Status of Human Rights Organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa

Training needs of Sub-Saharan African Human Rights NGOs

This section discusses resources within the region itself which could be of potential use in enabling groups to meet some of their training needs. While there are training resources outside of sub-Saharan Africa potentially available to groups in the region, there are a number of reasons why it is time highly desirable to utilize resources in the region. Due to frequent similarities in the political, social and economic contexts within which organizations in different countries in the region work, the experience of an organization in one country in sub-Saharan Africa will often be more directly relevant and applicable to the work of an organization in another country in the region than will be the work of organizations elsewhere. In light of the limited financial resources in the field, intra-regional training also has the added benefit of cost-effectiveness, since travel between and living costs within countries in the region are often less than those incurred in participating in training in other regions.

In the context of this project the term "training" has generally been used to denote education with an emphasis on practical skills development. Since the best potential trainers in practical skills related to human rights work are the practitioners of those skills, researchers in their travels sought for the most part to identify training capacity or potential capacity in activist organizations. For similar reasons the researchers generally did not explore strictly academic programs. However, they did meet with a number of academically-based human rights programs in African countries which have an activist component in the form, for example, of clinical legal programs or internships in human rights work. Since programs such as these are often closely related to work done by NGOs outside the university and are often critical to introducing individuals to and training individuals in human rights work, these types of programs were included in the search for "training resources".

Training Formats

Training in the practical aspects of human rights work can occur in a number of different formats. These include seminars or workshops, "professional attachments" or internships, exposures or "study tours", and on-site training. This project focused on current or potential capacity to train others using one or more of these different formats. Some explanation of these various terms:

A seminar or workshop was considered a training resource if it included some focus on skill development--if, for example, the subject of the workshop were international human rights law and there was a focus on or practice in how that law might be used in the ongoing advocacy work of organizations.

Internships or "professional attachments" is a second type of training format. Researchers met with a number of organizations who had hosted interns and expressed mixed opinions about internships, questioning the usefulness of interns to their ongoing work. At the same time these same organizations usually expressed interest and willingness to be involved in "South-South" exchanges with colleague organizations. In reviewing researchers' findings, it became obvious that in order to identify organizations' capacity and willingness to train human rights advocates from other countries, it would be essential to clarify these apparently contradictory statements.

When organizations talked about "interns", they tended to be referring to students from universities in the U.S. or Western Europe who typically spend two to three months with the organizations. The organizations' reservations often seemed to focus on the lack of preparedness of a number of the interns, the lack of serious attention by a number of the interns to the work to be done, and the inability of interns, in such a short period of time, to make any significant contribution to the ongoing work of the organization.

On the other hand, most organizations appeared very willing to share their knowledge and skills with experienced human rights advocates from other countries in Africa or other regions of the South. While recognizing that visits from such individuals also require quite a bit of planning and devotion of considerable time to oversee the visitor's program, in most cases there seemed to be a sense that the host organization could also learn from the visitor's experience, and that this type of sharing of experience is also an important means of demonstrating solidarity with human rights efforts elsewhere.

Because of the confusion generated by the word "intern", it may be preferable to use the term such as "professional attachment" to denote such longer-term visits by experienced human rights activists. While these visits may serve a number of purposes, they can, in particular, be an important means by which an individual experiences some in-depth skill development. For example, professional attachments can be a valuable educational tool for acquiring techniques in human rights fact-finding or community legal education.

Exposures or "study tours" are short-term visits to an organization or organizations of a few days up to a couple of weeks. Exposures generally provide a visitor with an overview of an issue or area of work undertaken by the host organization. They can be very helpful in broadening the visitor's perspective of how work can be done, but due to their short duration, they rarely enable any in-depth skill development to occur.

On-site training occurs when an individual with experience in a specific area or areas of human rights work provides training to the staff, volunteers or members of an organization at the organization's locale. Depending upon the subject matter of the training, on-site training can often be the most cost-effective means of enhancing the skills of a number of staff within one organization.

Infrastructural Support to Develop Training Potential

This project has sought to identify not only current training resources or capacity, but also potential capacity. It is important to dwell for a moment on this issue of potential training capacity. Project researchers identified such potential capacity in a number of the more established organizations in the region, where individual staff or key volunteers have accumulated substantial experience in, for example, test case litigation or investigative techniques. It is important, however, to highlight some significant obstacles to the realization of this potential.

When, for example, an organization hosts an activist from an organization in another country to enable that person to develop his or her knowledge and skills through a "professional attachment", there is a considerable drain on the host organization's resources. The latter has to develop a plan of activities and work for the visitor that will enable the visitor to learn what he or she wants to learn. In order for the program to go well, the host organization also needs to assign a staff person or key volunteer to assist the visitor, ensuring that the program suits his or her interests and that the plans are smoothly implemented, answering questions the visitor may have, making any changes or adjustments along the way, and so on. In addition, to the degree that the visitor is interested in a specific staff member's work area, that staff member's time is also diverted from his or her ongoing work.

If the experienced organizations identified by the researchers as potential trainers are to be able to fully realize their potential in this regard, they will need greater infrastructural support to enable to take on this additional work area.

There are other training formats which would require other types of infrastructural support that are currently lacking. For example, fact-finding is a critical skill in human rights work. There are experienced fact-finders or investigators in a number of different organizations in sub-Saharan Africa who could be of great help to other organizations by visiting an organization and training the latter's staff in fact-finding. However, it is generally recognized that excellence in a specific area of work does not automatically translate into excellence in teaching others how to do that work, and this is no less true in human rights than in other fields. At the same time there are currently very few programs in Africa, or elsewhere for that matter, that in any substantial way train experienced human rights workers how to translate their experience into teaching materials and training programs for others.

If the full training potential of experienced human rights organizations or individual activists in sub-Saharan Africa is to be realized, programs focused on the the pedagogy of skills training will need to be established to assist experienced activists to develop their capacity to train others. It would be most logical and cost-effective that such programs would be developed in Africa itself.

Existing or Potential Training Resources in Sub-Saharan Africa

This section discusses resources which researchers identified that currently do or potentially could help meet training needs in the major areas identified.

Fact-finding, investigating and monitoring: There is currently no regular training program in sub-Saharan Africa on human rights fact-finding. However a number of organizations in different countries have accumulated quite a bit of experience in this field. It may be timely for these organizations to meet and exchange their fact-finding experiences with an eye to developing training materials to assist other organizations enhance their fact-finding activities. Organizations with experience in fact-finding include the Independent Board of Inquiry into Informal Repression (IBIIR), Peace Action, Diakonia, and Lawyers for Human Rights in South Africa. Organizations in other countries with significant experience in fact-finding are the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and the Bulawayo Legal Projects Centre in Zimbabwe; the Voix des Sans Voix pour les Droits de l'Homme and the Ligue des Droits de l'Homme-Zaïre in Zaire; the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) and the Constitutional Rights Project in Nigeria; the Mouvement Burkinabè des Droits de l'Homme et des Peuples in Burkina Faso; the Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme (RADDHO) in Senegal; and the Liga Guineense dos Direitos do Homem in Guinea-Bissau.

International and regional standards and mechanisms: Aside from international human rights courses available at universities or law faculties, there are quite a number of informational seminars or workshops run by human rights organizations at the national level. For the most part activists do not need to go beyond their national borders to secure basic information on international and regional standards.

There are also, however, occasional seminars or workshops that draw attendees from a number of countries in the region or a sub-region. The African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies, together with the International Commission of Jurists and the African Commission of Human and Peoples' Rights, has run a series of workshops prior to the biannual meetings of the Commission where regional standards and mechanisms are discussed. The Centre also has a program on the use of international human rights standards and procedures. Human Rights Africa in Nigeria has run seminars on international human rights for government officials and journalists from different countries. The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe has run workshops for other Justice and Peace Commissions in other countries.

Once they are familiar with them, NGOs can make use of international and regional human rights standards in a number of ways. They can analyze national laws and practices, comparing them to the standards set internationally or regionally, and call for reform of the laws and practices to bring them into compliance with these standards. Very few organizations in Africa currently utilize such a strategy. Three organizations with significant experience in this regard are the Civil Liberties Organisation, the National Association of Democratic Lawyers, and the Constitutional Rights Project in Nigeria.

A related use of regional and international standards is in litigation, whereby shortcomings in national laws and practices are challenged in court using these standards as the yardstick. The Legal Resources Foundation in Zimbabwe has substantial experience in this regard, as do the National Association of Democratic Lawyers, the Constitutional Rights Project, and the Civil Liberties Organisation in Nigeria.

Organizations can also use mechanisms set up under regional or international human rights treaties or conventions. A few organizations have experience in submitting complaints or counter-reports to government reports to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights. These include Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme (RADDHO) in Senegal, and the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, and the Civil Liberties Organisation in Nigeria.

There is virtually no sustained experience among the groups visited in working with United Nations human rights bodies and mechanisms, with the exception of the experience that Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF) has with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Litigation: In a number of countries of anglophone African human rights organizations and individual advocates have used test case litigation and constitutional litigation as tools for protecting and promoting human rights. For various reasons these tool appears not to have been widely used thus far in francophone and lusophone countries.

A "test case" is one where the law, legal issues or practices being challenged affect or potentially affect a larger group than the individual client on whose behalf the case has been filed and where the case is filed in order to benefit not simply the individual client but also this larger group. Organizations with expertise in test case litigation include: the Legal Resources Centre in South Africa; the Legal Assistance Centre in Namibia; the Bulawayo Legal Projects Centre in Zimbabwe; the International Association of Women Lawyers-Ghana (FIDA-Ghana); and the National Association of Democratic Lawyers, the Constitutional Rights Project, and the Civil Liberties Organisation in Nigeria. A number of individual advocates in these and other countries, including Kenya, also regularly use this tool.

Constitutional litigation challenges laws and practices that violate human rights through appealing to provisions in a nation's constitution. Bulawayo Legal Projects Centre in Zimbabwe, as well as the Civil Liberties Organisation, the Constitutional Rights Project, and the National Association of Democratic Lawyers in Nigeria all have significant experience in this area. The Law Society of Kenya has scheduled a training course on constitutional litigation for mid-1994.

Legal Aid: There are a large number of legal aid organizations or organizations with a legal aid component in the countries visited. Some of these have been in existence for a number of years and have accumulated a great deal of experience in several aspects of legal aid work. These include Kituo Cha Sheria in Kenya, the Legal Resources Foundation in Zimbabwe, as well as Black Sash and Lawyers for Human Rights in South Africa.

Most of the legal aid organizations visited are involved in providing legal advice and in taking individual cases to court. Another strategy commonly employed by these organizations in their legal aid work is the use of paralegals. The work of paralegals varies among organizations, some being involved in simply providing legal advice on request, others more directly involved in legal education and empowerment projects in communities. Organizations that have considerable experience in paralegal work include: the Association pour le Développement des Initiatives Villageoises (ASSODIV) and AHAVA in Benin, the Comité Africain pour le Droit et le Développement (CADD) and the Centre d'Informations Juridiques of the Réseau Africain pour le Développement Integré (CIJ-RADI) in Senegal; the Legal Resources Foundation, the Bulawayo Legal Projects Centre and Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF) in Zimbabwe; the Legal Assistance Centre in Namibia; Kituo Cha Sheria in Kenya; the Legal Research and Resource Development Centre (LRRDC) in Nigeria; Black Sash, Community Law Centre (Durban), Diakonia, Lawyers for Human Rights, the Legal Resources Centre and the Street Law Programme in South Africa. The Legal Education Action Project (LEAP) at the Institute of Criminology of the University of Cape Town in South Africa has extensive experience in training trainers of paralegals. Also of interest is A Paralegal Trainer's Manual for Africa, written by Amy S. Tsanga and Olatokunbo Ige, recently published by the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva.

A large number of organizations have developed materials for popular legal education in the form of primers or comic books in local languages. These materials are already circulating among groups in sub-Saharan Africa, and this exchange of information is useful itself to enhance the knowledge and skills of groups working in this area. An organization with extensive experience in this area is the Street Law Programme at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies in South Africa, which works with schools, community organizations, prisons, youth groups, service organizations, unions, domestic workers organizations and development projects.

Work on Economic and Social Rights: In general, organizations in South Africa have the most extensive experience working on this set of rights; organizations with this expertise include Black Sash, the Community Law Centre and the Legal Resources Centre. Organizations in other countries include: the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe; the Commissão Católica de Justiça e Paz and the Conselho Cristão de Moçambique in Mozambique; and the Civil Liberties Organisation and the Constitutional Rights Project in Nigeria.

Organizational Development and Strategy: In most of the countries visited, researchers found that there are resources to train organizations within the country in such matters as bookkeeping and other specific administrative tasks. Therefore there is generally no need for organizations to look outside their own country for training in such skills.

This is less true with respect to broader issues of NGO management, development and strategy. There are some resources along this line available to NGOs, for example, in South Africa, and church-related organizations in a number of countries in Africa use a resource developed in Africa, Training for Transformation: A Handbook for Community Workers to train their workers on organizational development and management issues. The Gorée Institute Centre for Democracy, Development and Culture in Africa in Senegal has run some well-organized workshops on these issues for human rights NGOs from different countries. Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF), headquartered in Zimbabwe, works regularly with groups on institutional building issues, as well as gender sensitivity.

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