At the 5th Regional consultation of the Network of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in West Africa, Joseph Whittal, President of the NHRIs in West Africa, and the Commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) delivered an address which focused on human rights challenges in West Africa, and highlighted the significance of two important milestones in the global human rights community.
The consultation, held against the backdrop of the 75th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) and the 30th Anniversary of the “Paris Principles,” aimed to deliberate and share lessons on how to deepen and consolidate the work of promoting and protecting human rights in the sub-region by NHRIs.
Mr. Whittal emphasized the enduring relevance of the UDHR, which serves as the “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”. He noted that in today’s world, many of the values enshrined in this historic declaration faced serious backlash and, therefore, called for serious reflection by NHRIs on their contributions to making these values a lived reality for citizens experiencing inequalities, marginalization, gender discrimination, hate speech, shrinking civic space, displacement, forced migration, terrorism and violent extremism. He questioned what the role of NHRIs was in the face of these emergent human rights issues which are rife, especially in the sub-region.
Drawing participants’ attention to the 30th Anniversary of the Paris Principles, Mr. Whittal acknowledged the progress made in establishing and accrediting NHRIs in West Africa and the Sahel. He said “Out of the 16 countries in the region, 15 have established NHRIs, with 11 holding “A” status accreditations under the Paris Principles Assessment of Effectiveness”. Nonetheless, he stressed that these are minimum standards, and further efforts are needed to strengthen NHRIs, even those with “A” status, by enhancing legal frameworks and increasing budget allocations.
Commissioner Whittal also raised concerns about the other NHRIs that have “B” status, as well as the NHRI in Guinea that was shut down by the junta. He called for collective reflection on how to overcome the effectiveness deficit outlined by the Paris Principles and strengthen NHRIs to meet the basic minimum criteria for effectiveness.
Highlighting the growth and influence of the NHRIs in West Africa, Mr. Whittal expressed gratitude for the support of strategic partners to organize the consultation aimed to equip NHRIs with knowledge and resources to contribute effectively to national development and the realization of meaningful and sustainable human rights advancements.
He acknowledged the invaluable contributions of experts who would deliver valuable presentations on various sub-themes during the consultation. Notable presentations included discussions on the Paris Principles by the Executive Director of the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI), lessons on designing and implementing National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights by the NHRI of Uganda, and insights from NHRIs in Mali and Burkina Faso on mainstreaming human rights in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism.
Other presentations covered topics such as human rights in the context of migration, strengthening the implementation of the Global Compact on Migration, enhancing partnerships with civil society organizations, promoting inclusive electoral processes, the instrumentalization of the justice system’s impact on human rights, rule of law, and democratic governance, and expanding civic space through democratic consolidation.
This regional consultation is the 6th consultation in a row the Network and its Strategic Partners ECOWAS, OHCHR, and UNOWAS have convened for NHRIs in West Africa and the Sahel to deliberate and share lessons on how to deepen and consolidate the work of promoting and protecting human rights in the sub-region. The consultations also provided a platform for exchanging experiences on best practices among NHRIs in West Africa to foster collaborations and collective action in addressing the emerging human rights challenges prevalent in the sub-region.