The prospects for protecting and promoting human rights in Togo are improving, but defenders of rights still face serious obstacles to carrying out their work, experts with the United Nations and African Union (AU) have said after visiting the West African country.
Margaret Sekaggya, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and Reine Alapini-Gansou, the AU Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders in Africa issued a joint statement on Monday that voiced optimism after a week-long visit and offered preliminary recommendations.
Mrs. Sekaggya and Mrs. Alapini-Gansou said “a conducive environment in which human rights defenders can operate has progressively emerged” since the violence that followed the death of the then president Eyadema Gnassingbé in February 2005.
The two rapporteurs said the Government now acknowledges past human rights violations and is pledging to address them; attacks and acts of intimidation against rights defenders have “significantly reduced in number”; judicial reforms have begun; and the national human rights ministry has conducted a series of activities to promote and protect rights.
But they said many defenders face ongoing stigmatization by authorities, especially if they are seen as belonging to the political opposition.
“This misperception, more acute outside the capital [Lomé], generates a climate of mistrust between the State authorities and human rights defenders,” according to the joint statement. “In addition, civil society at large is fragmented and lacks coordination.”
Past human rights abuses should be dealt with through a truth, justice and reconciliation commission, and the National Human Rights Commission should also receive greater funding, the rapporteurs stressed.
In addition, Mrs. Sekaggya and Mrs. Alapini-Gansou recommend that the Government speed up the process of registration of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) so they can carry out their work.
During their visit the rapporteurs met with President Faure Gnassingbé, Prime Minister Komlan Mally and other senior Government officials, as well as members of the National Assembly, the main political parties and the judiciary.
They also held talks with human rights defenders, representatives of NGOs, journalists, trade union activists, lawyers and diplomats.
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