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Coalition of African Lesbians’ observer status revoked by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

Bending to the will of the Executive Council of the African Union, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, whose mandate it is to safeguard human rights, has revoked the observer status of the Coalition of African Lesbians. The coalition is the only regional, membership-based organisation that works for the advancement of all women’s broader rights in Africa.



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In a communication by the Secretariat of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) to the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL) on 8 August 2018, the organisation conveyed its decision to revoke CAL’s observer status. They stated that the decision was based on compliance with the AU Executive Council’s decisions of 2016 and 2018. This development puts CAL several steps back, after it was appropriately given a seat at the table in 2015, after decades of the coalition’s activism at the ACHPR in defence of women’s rights and sexual rights.

According to a press statement on the issue, CAL has used its observer status thus far to shed light on a wide range of human rights violations experienced by women. This included a recent report focusing on the denial of abortion and post-abortion care as being torture, and a groundbreaking report on the situation of women human rights defenders in Africa.

According to the organisation’s website, the ACHPR’s secretariat is located in Banjul, The Gambia. In addition to performing any tasks entrusted to it by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government, the ACHPR is officially charged with three major functions: the protection of human and peoples’ rights, the promotion of human and peoples’ rights, and the interpretation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

File picture: Homosexuality is criminalised in many parts of Africa, and LGBTI people struggle to imagine a life of visibility and freedom.  Photo: lazyllama/Shutterstock

The decision to exclude CAL from proceedings will exclude African women’s rights movements and activities from defining spaces where decisions about women are made on their behalf but without their input – which is seemingly in contrast with ACHPR’s outlined mandate.

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CAL’s Director of Development, Donna A. M. Smith, said in the press statement, “The withdrawal of CAL’s observer status also exemplifies the backlash that women and LGBTQI movements are facing on the continent in their work for the recognition of issues of autonomy, sexuality and gender in the human rights framework, as well as persistent attacks on their rights to freedom of expression and association.”

Additionally, the decision of the AU Executive Council restricts the independence of the ACHPR by ordering it to obtain prior approval from a country before reporting on human rights violations happening in that country. This resistance to any scrutiny and accountability for national human rights violations leaves the institutions that were set up to protect and promote these rights incapable of doing so. Civil society organisations and NGO participation in these spaces will also become extremely difficult.

About The Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL)

The Coalition of African Lesbians is a feminist, activist and pan Africanist network of 14 organisations in 11 countries in sub-Saharan Africa committed to advancing freedom, justice and bodily autonomy for all women on the African continent and beyond.