The Status of Human Rights Organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa

Training needs of Sub-Saharan African Human Rights NGOs

For young human rights groups there are clearly many areas where training is required. The following section is an attempt to identify some broad categories of training needs which were identified by human rights groups themselves or observed in the course of this study. The list outlines some of the priorities arising from the individual country studies; the country chapters themselves examine these needs in greater detail.

Fact-finding, investigating and monitoring: Curiously, one of the most fundamental aspects of human rights work--the investigation and reporting of abuses--is seldom identified as a training need and is not a popular area for funding. The reason is probably that donors prefer to operate in less controversial areas, such as human rights education, and human rights groups themselves may choose to begin working in areas such as education or legal advocacy where they are less likely to come into direct conflict with the authorities. Nevertheless, one of the conclusions of this study is that training in fact-finding and investigative techniques is a high priority, since it is such an important part of human rights work and one where the skills of most African organizations are underdeveloped.

The precise need varies from organization to organization. A large number of groups could benefit from training in investigating abuses of economic and social rights. Some groups require sophisticated training in forensic techniques, while others could benefit from basic training in establishing and checking facts. In particular, the phenomenon of informal repression requires the development of advanced research techniques. Some groups have already developed sophisticated approaches and training materials for fact-finding on this and other issues, and these could be usefully employed elsewhere.

Monitoring requires somewhat different skills and approaches. This category includes monitoring demonstrations, elections, trials and media reporting.

International and regional standards and mechanisms: The potential uses of international human rights standards and mechanisms in the work of an organization depends on the susceptibility of the government to international pressure and the status of international law in the domestic legal system. Nevertheless there is a value to such training in all places. Of particular importance would be training in the application of international standards on economic and social rights. In many countries, however, there is such a lack of understanding about the potential uses of international standards and mechanisms that groups are not even aware of the value that training could have. In many of the francophone countries, for example, it is constitutionally permitted to apply international law in the local courts, but it is rarely done. In Nigeria, however, where the African Charter applies as local law, the human rights groups have succeeded in educating themselves and the court system as to its uses. In South Africa there is now some consideration of the potential use of the United Nations instruments and procedures but none of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. In general, the women's groups across Africa have tended to be more sophisticated about the uses of international mechanisms.

Litigation: There is a great and largely unrealized potential for sharing both the strategies and the jurisprudence of human rights litigation across the continent. The sharing process is easiest and best developed among the anglophone jurisdictions with a shared common law tradition. On the other hand, the francophone jurisdictions offer a great potential, especially where the constitution permits the application of international treaty law by the local courts. Generally, groups are not sufficiently informed about others' experiences, existing jurisprudence and potential strategies in order to articulate needs. Again, the women's groups offer a limited exception, having begun to share jurisprudence and information across national and linguistic lines.

Legal Aid: Although a large number of organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa provide legal advice and assistance, the demand far exceeds existing capacity, particularly in rural areas. One of the major problems facing those committed to making legal aid widely available is the relative dearth of lawyers willing and able to provide free legal assistance. In this context the use various organizations make of paralegals--non-lawyers trained to provide a wide range of advice and assistance on legal issues--becomes a key to the ability of organizations to respond to the demand they face from the population. Training needs in this area include such questions as how to structure and operate an organization using volunteer lawyers, how to ensure that legal assistance is available to rural populations, and how to train individuals to provide effective paralegal services.

Organizational management, administration and development: There is a need, in general, to strengthen management and to develop and control administrative structures. Such strengthening needs to be supported through the training and development of human rights workers, because commitment alone is an insufficient basis on which to proceed with building an effective organization. This heading covers a host of areas where African human rights organizations have serious training needs. These include: formulating a mandate and realizable strategy for developing the organization; developing democratic and accountable forms of management and decision-making; developing gender sensitivity, both in internal functioning and in mandate and strategy; fund-raising, both domestically and internationally, and financial accounting and reporting; developing low-cost communications, for example, by electronic mail; learning basic administrative procedures appropriate to small NGOs and membership organizations; learning computer skills. This list is not exhaustive, yet the acquisition of these basic skills and methods of operation is in many cases crucial to the future development of organizations.

Campaigning and lobbying: Lobbying or the use of public campaigns depends on the particular conditions in the country and its human rights groups. Press releases, billboards and government lobbying which might be useful in a country with a relatively strong government or an engaged population would be useless in a country, such as Zaire, where there is neither. Thus strategic planning is crucial, with a particular need to identify how information can be most effectively used. Once this is done, training in specific campaigning techniques could be useful.

Documentation: Documentation, in one form or another, is a need for all groups, whether it is to document the group's own investigations or to create a resource centre serving the community. In some countries one group has emerged which is able to act as a documentation centre for the human rights movement as a whole. Training would have to consider both documentation techniques and the uses of documentation.

Popular education: This is perhaps the area in which African human rights groups have most experience and expertise, since almost all are engaged in human rights education at one level or another. Thus training needs in this area are perhaps fewer, although the continuing need for popular education in human rights is overwhelming. Sharing of information among African human rights groups regarding strategies and techniques, as well as actual training materials, would be most useful.

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