African Commission recognizes that closing civic space hurts the fight against HIV

Civil society groups are under attack: in many countries, new laws and police crackdowns make it harder for groups to register, hold meetings, organize events, even to post online. CIVICUS found “serious threats to civic freedom” in 100 countries last year.┬áThis is disastrous for countries facing a high burden of HIV, where civil society has often led the way, and it especially affects the criminalized, hidden populations most vulnerable to HIV: sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender people, and people who inject drugs. This report, which I wrote for Global Philanthropy Project last year, documents case studies of LGBT groups facing closing space in four countries, including Kenya.

Under the circs, it’s great news that the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights has recognized the threat in a new resolution on human rights defenders in Africa.

The new resolution expresses concerns

about new challenges, in particular the increased threats against defenders working on issues including the right to health, the fight against HIV/AIDS, reproductive health, sexual orientation and gender, extractive industries, promotion of democracy and peace, and women rights defenders irrespective of their area of activity”

and it calls upon states to

Adopt specific legislative measures to recognise the status of human rights defenders, and protect their rights and the rights of their colleagues and family members, including women human rights defenders and those working on issues such as extractive industries, health and HIV/AIDS, reproductive health, sexual orientation and gender identity, promotion of peace and democracy, fight against terrorism, and respect for human rights

This is a win for African rights advocates, and hopefully a useful tool for those pushing for space to do life-saving work in the region.

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