Women Human Rights Defenders call for protection

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The Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) and entire Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) are calling on governments across the sub-region to provide them protection from varied forms of attack.

The attacks, which they deemed as a violation of human rights sometimes and a repression, resulted in spinning, threats and intimidation against them and their families, defamation campaigns orchestrated by the official media, and bans on leaving or returning to their countries.

Others are harassment at the workplace, arbitrary arrest and detention, or ill-treatment, and even assassination, Ms. Esther Tawiah, the Executive Director of the Gender Centre for Empowering Development (GenCED)said.

She made the call on behalf of the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), on Tuesday during the launch of a report from GenCED on a study conducted in six West African countries on the situation of WHRDs and other vulnerable HRDs in West Africa, in Accra.

Out of the total number studied, 54 percent were females and 46 per cent were males with ages ranging between 18 and above 49.

The report stated that WHRDs faced numerous challenges such as lack of access to justice, which were as a result of lack of financial resources, a situation that made it difficult for them to raise fees against the judicial harassments they suffered and against the criminal challenges against them.

Ms. Tawiah said the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of the violations was particularly worrying, explaining that they were high in situations of internal conflict or crisis and in countries where the judiciary did not have independence to sanction perpetrators of violations.

Another challenge faced by the entire HRDs, she said were difficulty in raising funds, particularly those working in local communities due to the cumbersome formalities and complicated funding process that required expertise.

The language barriers and weakness of digital means of communication in the sub-region also led to poor collaborations between HRDs networks, and that contributed to a little development in the exchange of experience on protection issues between non-governmental organisations and varied language-speaking countries.

The Executive Director said the WHRDs by addressing women’s rights, inequality, polygamy, hereditary rights, female genital mutilation, the sexuality of young women and their right to sexual education, gender identity and expression, the legal age of marriage and the equitable sharing of resources and wealth particularly from the extractive industries, made society and culture perceive them as ‘social deviants’.

To address these challenges among others, Ms. Tawiah and the CSOs called on the government to develop, strengthen and implement laws for the promotion and protection of HRDs including; WHRDs, in accordance with international standards.

It should also establish a complaint system adapted to the WHRDs in order to stop impunity for attacks against them and strengthen the law on internet access and use in accordance with international standards.

They also charged the government and other CSOs to join forces to strengthen human rights education programmes and the role of HRDs for the benefit of communities, for the dissemination and popularization of the provisions contained in the UN Declaration on HRDs.

They entreated government and the judicial service to set up promotion programmes for the broad dissemination of information on the promotion and protection of human rights in general and that of HRDs and WHRDs.

At the sub-regional level, the CSOS called for a development and implementation of capacity building programmes for coalitions and regional platforms involved in the promotion, protection and defense of WHRDs’ rights.

They also suggested that there was a facilitation of exchange of experiences and good practices between coalitions and regional platforms concerned with the promotion, protection and defense of the rights of WHRDs through study trips and exchange workshops.

The CSOs admonished all stakeholders to encourage technical and financial partners to redouble their efforts by strengthening financial and technical support to organisations at local, national and sub-regional level.

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