The Forum on the Participation of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in the 57th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (NGO Forum) has just ended and what an interesting forum it proved to be. For those who are not familiar with the NGO Forum, it is a regular meeting of human rights organisations carried out a few days before the session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The NGO forum provides an opportunity for human rights organisations across the continent to meet and discuss concerns so pressing that they inspire a collective condemning such violations.
Among the many guests and participants at the NGO Forum, held from 31 October – 2 November 2015, one group stuck out in particular. Rarely do state representatives openly attended the NGO Forum, particularly when the country is not under review. Many state agents likely attended the session in the guise of being NGOs, but the Angolan authorities wanted it to be clear that the state representatives were present. Given the recent position on Angola adopted by the European Parliament and the public call from the UN for the release of the Angola 15 – a group of youths arrested when meeting to discuss the political situation in Angola and accused of an attempted coup – the Angolan authorities probably anticipated that Angola would feature prominently in the agenda, and they were not disappointed. Throughout the three-day session, reference to the Angola 15 was not far from the lips of numerous participants from various countries and organisations. Nor was the presidential decree passed in March 2015 which places heavy restrictions on the functioning of organisations in Angola, including by giving the state powers to determine where organisations should work and on what issues, as well as by placing restrictions on access to funding.
During the second day of the NGO Forum, Commissioner Alpine-Gansou, the African Commission Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) spoke of concerns regarding reprisals against HRDs in Angola. Her presentation provided an opportunity for participants at the Forum to publicly raise concern at the presence of Angolan government officials and possible reprisals against civil society organisations at the Forum.
However, it was not the government officials who presented the greatest obstacles to solidarity for human rights in the country or the plight of the 20 individuals in Angola currently facing state security crimes for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. The Bible warns of wolves in sheep’s clothing and such wolf-sheep are not restricted to churches. In the NGO world, they manifest in the form of GONGOs (Governmental Non-Governmental Organisations) masquerading as protectors of the rights of the people while working as the mouthpiece for the government.
Towards the end of the three-day session, the organisations gathered at the Forum adopt resolutions to be presented to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Of the numerous resolutions adopted this time around, three contained calls on Angola. One of these was a resolution on the human rights situation in Angola. To the surprise of those gathered at the session, despite the resolution drafting process being open to all participants, this statement was met with objections from a representative of an Angolan NGO (read GONGO) claiming his organization had not had an opportunity to contribute to it and calling for the rejection of the whole resolution on that basis. The Forum was left with no option but to let the democratic process run its course and the resolution was adopted by a vote. The GONGO was at great pains to ensure that the records would reflect that the adoption was not unanimous. Indeed it was adopted with 2 votes against (both of which were from the GONGO) and the other two resolutions with calls on Angola were unanimously adopted.