All you need to know about the NGOs Forum preceding ACHPR Sessions
IMPORTANT TO KNOW: The Forum on the Participation of NGOs in the Ordinary Sessions of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission), also known as the ‘NGOs Forum’ is an advocacy platform coordinated by the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies to promote advocacy, lobbying and networking among and between human rights NGOs, for the promotion and protection of human rights in Africa.
The NGO Forum has become a key venue for NGO engagement with the Commission. Held in advance of the Commission’s Ordinary Sessions, the NGO Forum provides a platform for NGOs to discuss the human rights situation in Africa, exchange information, and build their advocacy networks. Moreover, Commissioners often participate in the NGO Forum and incorporate language from NGO Forum resolutions into Commission resolutions.
HISTORY AND FUNCTION
The NGO Forum was first held in 1990, at the initiative of the International Commission of Jurists. The African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS), a pan-African organization based in the Gambia, now organizes and hosts the NGO Forum. This convening is generally held approximately three to five days before the Commission’s Ordinary Sessions, and brings together a large and diverse group of people with an interest in advocacy before the Commission. The NGO Forum provides an opportunity for a wide range of individuals and organizations to share their knowledge of and experience with human rights issues prior to the Commission’s sessions. Forum participants have also included representatives from national human rights institutions and academia. Past forums have seen participation by over 200 individuals and organizations.
BENEFITS OF ATTENDING THE NGO FORUM
provides a good opportunity to network and meet other advocates
creates opportunities to organize
useful to attend side events that address specific issues
the Commissioners and the Commission’s staff also attend
RELATION TO THE AFRICAN COMMISSION
· The nature of the NGO Forum illustrates how African and other NGOs weave their work together with that of the African Commission. As a primary example of this, the NGO Forum’s program itself generally mirrors the African Commission’s Provisional Agenda, which is circulated by the Commission prior to the Session. For that reason, NGO Forum panel discussions and Special Working Group Sessions tend to focus on the specific human rights issues and State reports about to be considered by the African Commission.
· Over the years, the African Commission and the NGO Forum have developed a close working relationship. This relationship enables NGOs to advocate outside Commission Sessions; they can also engage with other NGOs and – significantly – with Commissioners.
· At the conclusion of the NGO Forum, participants adopt a number of thematic and country-specific resolutions, which are subsequently delivered to the African Commission. Then, during the opening ceremony of a Commission Session, a representative of the NGO Forum typically delivers a statement summarizing the NGO Forum’s substantive discussions and resolutions.
· ADVOCACY OPPORTUNITIES
· Participation in the NGO Forum offers many opportunities for engagement. First, participants can attend panel discussions, working groups, and networking events. Panel discussions typically focus on specific human rights issues that the African Commission will hear reports on by its special mechanisms, but the NGO Forum also permits civil society to discuss, and raise awareness of, issues that are left off the Commission’s agenda or that are of concern in more than one country on the continent. The panel discussions provide an opportunity for NGOs to flag issues not previously raised in State reports to the Commission.
· Second, since NGO Forum resolutions are drafted during working groups that are also occasionally attended by Commissioners, participants have the chance to urge the Commission to take action on issues it has avoided or not adequately addressed in the past. The final resolutions are subsequently delivered to the African Commission, creating multiple avenues for advocacy.
· Third, NGOs can organize side events to take place during or after the NGO Forum. These events tend to focus on issues identified as critical by a coalition of civil society groups. As with the NGO Forum, Commissioners and State delegates sometimes attend these events, providing another opportunity for dialogue outside of the Commission Sessions.
· Lastly, the NGO Forum also provides valuable opportunities for individuals, civil society, NGOs, and Commissioners to network and collaborate with each other. Indeed, networking and collaboration among civil society organizations forms “the core” of the Forum’s objectives. In the past, the NGO Forum has dedicated time to examining the relationships between NGOs as well as between NGOs and the African Commission in order to develop strategies to increase collaboration between these groups.