Two years ago, Avocats Sans Frontières launched Justice ExPEERience, a network for the promotion of human rights, as well as an online platform of the same name to support and energise this network. This anniversary is an opportunity for us to look back at the history and mandate of the Justice ExPEERience network and its platform. A report on its first two years of activity has just been published, covering developments since its creation, its key projects and also its development prospects.
The network has expanded significantly since its launch in 2021. It now has more than 600 members working in 52 countries on 5 continents. The network wants to create more links between actors‧rice‧s in the sector promoting access to justice and human rights around the world. The aim is for them‧elle‧s to be able to share knowledge, build capacity and work on joint projects to have more impact.
The Justice ExPEERience platform has also been significantly improved. In 2022, it was equipped with a mobile application that can be downloaded to any smartphone. The platform’s interface has also been translated into Arabic, adding to the languages already available, including English and French. Developments are also underway to improve the fluidity, speed and user experience‧rice on the Justice ExPEERience platform.
Several communities of practice, coalitions and working groups have also emerged on Justice ExPEErience over the last two years. They have shared information and contributed to exchanges in public spaces, but have also been able to work and collaborate in confidential spaces to collectively develop advocacy campaigns, projects to monitor human rights violations, or strategic litigation.
This article was published in ASF’s 2022 annual report.
In recent years, ASF has progressively adopted a regional approach to its activities in East Africa. To lead the organisation development in the region and enable the implementation of strong and coherent regional strategies, a regional hub was created in Kampala in 2021. It is currently made up of three staff, in addition to the Regional Director and the respective Country Director for Uganda and Coordinators of Programs for Kenya and Tanzania.
Countries in East Africa share historical, economic, political, social and cultural ties, and have become increasingly integrated. In this context, issues of interest to ASF, such as the governance of natural resources, detention, or security and liberty, may cut across several countries. Lessons learnt when implementing programs in one country can therefore be of great significance to develop our action in other contexts.
Since its creation, a key role of the Regional Office has been to strategically compile and redistribute knowledge across all programs. This has allowed for synergies to be developed, while also leaving space for the contextualization of each intervention.
In addition to this, the creation of new roles dedicated to specific technical functions within the regional team has provided a way for ASF to improve methodological support to the various country teams, in areas such as research, monitoring and evaluation, strategic litigation, and advocacy.
A key priority for the Regional Office is also to identify opportunities for development at a regional level, including through the drafting of multi-country and regional projects. In March 2022, ASF launched a two-year project funded by the Belgian DGD entitled ‘Protecting Civic Space: a Public Interest Litigation Approach’. Covering three countries in the region, the project aims to contribute to the advancement of the rule of law in East Africa through mobilizing civil society around regional human rights treaty bodies, mechanisms and instruments.
Moving forward, the Regional Office intends to keep strengthening ASF’s presence at a regional level in East Africa. Whether through advocacy, strategic litigation, or other engagements with external stakeholders, efforts will continue throughout 2023 to ensure that ASF’s work is visible and impactful in the region.
Even if Kenya is consolidating its democratic institutions after a legacy of authoritarian rule, the country has had its share of politically instigated violence along ethnic lines. Following the post-election violence in 2007-2008, Kenya approved a new constitution in 2010 that enshrines perhaps one of the most exhaustive and forward-thinking Bills of Rights in the region and in the continent.
Since gaining independence from British colonial rule in 1963, Kenya has experienced periods of political turmoil, autocratic rule and progress towards stability. Kenya plays a leading role in regional diplomacy and economic integration, particularly within the East African Community (EAC) and the African Union.
Access to Justice and Rule of Law
In Kenya, access to justice remains a challenge for a significant portion of the population. The justice sector in Kenya has been the subject of major reform efforts in recent years, including measures to improve the independence of the judiciary, the revamping of Kenya National Human Rights and Equality Commission and measures to improve the effectiveness and accountability of the police and the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Despite those reforms, the criminal justice system is still characterised by significant discretionary powers and challenges to the independence of the judiciary, which can lead to the criminalisation of poverty and the persecution of citizens. A majority of convicted prisoners are petty offenders, and trust in the courts remains low.
ASF’s Work in Kenya
With its diverse and dynamic population of approximately 53 million people, a rapidly evolving political landscape and strong economy, Kenya plays a pivotal role in the region. Kenya therefore serves as a critical hub for Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) in its pursuit of promoting access to justice and human rights in East Africa. The organizationis planning to focuses on the following areas in Kenya:
- Access to justice: ASF can provide legal aid to people who are unable to afford it, including victims of human rights abuses, marginalized groups, and people in detention.
- Human rights monitoring: ASF is planning to monitor the human rights situation in Kenya and promote access to remedies.
- Advocacy: ASF advocates for the protection of human rights in Kenya, including through direct advocacy with the government and awareness raising among the public.
This article is part of ASF’s 2022 annual report.
In order to develop an action that best promotes its mandate and is consistent with the specific needs of the national contexts it is involved in, ASF relies on solid analyses of the issues in the countries where it operates. Being anchored in the realities of the countries is essential in order to develop contextualised expertise, to build strategic partnerships at the local level and to be able to put in place relevant and qualitative actions for the local populations.
Furthermore, the issues we address do not stop at borders and often have transnational dimensions.
To meet these requirements, ASF has been developing regional approaches for several years through its regional hubs in the Euro-Mediterranean region and in East Africa, with offices in Tunis and Kampala respectively.
These regional offices guarantee the necessary proximity to the beneficiaries of the actions and local partners in order to strengthen ASF’s presence in the region. They promote the development of their actions by building on existing expertise and networks.
The creation of these hubs is also part of the organisation’s decentralisation process. One of their functions is to strengthen the strategic dialogue between the different offices and to ensure that the perspective, experiences and expertise developed at the regional level feed into ASF’s global approaches.
The choice to prioritise the creation of these two regional offices was guided by factors both internal and external to the organisation:
- The choice to strengthen our presence in regions where we have demonstrated our added value, our ability to mobilise relevant stakeholders and our relationships with national and international stakeholders
- The presence of an ASF office with significant experience of the regional context
- The identification of transnational issues
Main functions of the hubs
1) Strategic development and guidance
The hubs provide support and guidance to existing missions, and the implementation of actions that are developed in other countries of the region or at the regional level.
2) Expertise and Knowledge
The hubs produce relevant and contextualised expertise based on data collected in the field and linked to the organisation’s advocacy strategies.
3) International advocacy and networking
The hubs provide support to networks, which will thus be able to benefit from appropriate assistance in the development, monitoring and evaluation of influence strategies. While national issues remain the responsibility of the country offices, the hub is more specifically interested in supporting networks at the international level in order to influence the development of public policies.
4) Capacity building
This involves capacity building for country teams in the region, in areas that are functional to the development of intervention strategies and on the basis of a soft peer-reinforcement approach.
This strategy of strengthening regional dynamics has proven its worth in the first year of setting up regional offices:
- Regional projects have already been launched in East Africa and in the Euro-Med region.
- This has enabled us to initiate actions at the level of regional bodies, such as the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Arusha.
- It allows us to develop actions in countries where we do not have a permanent team, such as Tanzania or Kenya.
- Rationalisation and pooling of human resources through the creation of regional functions, covering actions in several countries
The Avocats Sans Frontières team is delighted to present its latest annual report.
We have come a long way since ASF was founded in 1992 by a group of Belgian lawyers. Over these 30 years, hundreds of people have contributed to making the organisation what it is today: a militant organisation active in a dozen countries, working to promote access to justice and the rule of law based on human rights, in close collaboration with local actors.
These thirty years of action, the local roots we have developed and the links we have forged with human rights defenders from the four corners of the world give us a great deal of strength and confidence as we look to the future and continue to deploy impactful action in the service of populations in vulnerable situations (women, children, the LGBTQI+ community, ethnic minorities, people in detention, people in migration, etc.).
But the challenges are many. All over the world, civil society organisations and human rights defenders are faced with worrying developments and trends: the rise of authoritarianism, the shrinking of civic space, growing public distrust of institutions, heightened social tensions, etc.
Defenders of human rights and access to justice have to work in contexts that are increasingly hostile to them. The very notions of human rights and the rule of law are being called into question. Activists, lawyers and journalists working to defend the fundamental rights of populations in vulnerable situations are increasingly systematically targeted by repressive policies.
Every page of this report bears witness to the vigour of the flame that drives those who are committed to upholding human rights at the very heart of our societies, at the risk and peril of their own freedom. This report is a tribute to each and every one of them.