In the Field
West African Human Rights Training Initiative
Conflict and Instability in West Africa
For the last 20 years, the Mano River sub-region of West Africa (Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire) has been ravaged by a region-wide conflict, with guns, youth combatants and refugees spilling over porous borders. In 2011, a renewed political crisis in Côte d’Ivoire once again threatens to pull the entire sub-region back into armed conflict and chaos.
With conflicts marked by “blood diamonds,” child soldiers and widespread sexual violence, the human rights fallout for many West Africans has been, and continues to be, devastating. But human rights abuses have not just been a consequence of war and conflict. Impunity for human rights violations has itself been a chronic source of instability and an obstacle to long-term peace.
Ultimately, building positive peace in the sub-region means building better and more accountable governments, but this cannot be done without a vibrant and vigorous civil society with the tools and training to press government for necessary redress and reform.
Strengthening Human Rights Organizations
The West African Human Rights Training Initiative (WAHRTI) is a regional partnership between the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice (IPJ), the Open Society Initiative for West Africa and the leading human rights organizations in the Mano River region.
The primary goal of the initiative is to strengthen the ability of select human rights organizations to pressure their governments for reform and accountability for human rights abuses by engaging in a three-step process of human rights investigation, report writing and advocacy.
The IPJ believes that continuing advocacy efforts by local human rights defenders will be central to promoting the consolidation of a just and lasting peace in the Mano River region.
To date, the IPJ has conducted intensive on-the-ground trainings with human rights organizations in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The trainings cover research design, investigative and field research skills and analysis, report writing and research-based advocacy.
While the classroom workshops provide an important foundation, the sustained and applied nature of the WAHRTI training cycle is key to the program’s success. As of mid-2012, nine local partners are now working to document pressing human rights issues with IPJ mentorship and OSIWA’s financial support:
- Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF, Guinea), Prolonged pre-trial detention in Guinea’s prisons and police stations.
- Les Mêmes Droits Pour Tous (MDT, Guinea), Police torture.
- Agenda for Development Alternatives (AGENDA, Liberia), Discrimination against persons with disabilities.
- Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL, Liberia), Corruption in the education sector and its effect on the right to education.
- Center for Accountability and the Rule of Law (CARL, Sierra Leone): Prolonged pretrial detention in Freetown’s central prison.
- Lawyers Center for Legal Assistance (LAWCLA, Sierra Leone), Abuses against commercial sex workers by the police.
- Ivoirian League for Human Rights (LIDHO), Violations of freedom of speech and assembly.
- Action for the Protection of Human Rights (APDH), Violations of physical integrity in south-west Côte d'Ivoire.
- The Association of Women Jurists of Côte d'Ivoire (AFJCI), Female genital mutilation as a human rights violation.
Following a January 2012 training workshop, the IPJ is working with three project partners in Côte d’Ivoire to develop research plans for 2012 (APDH, LIDHO and AFJCI).
For more information about the IPJ’s work in West Africa, please contact Assistant Professor Dustin Sharp.
To learn more, read an interview with Professor Sharp regarding the project.