Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA)
The Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA) is a pan-African non-governmental organization that is dedicated to protecting and advancing human rights in the continent. Through various initiatives geared towards improving the effectiveness of the African human rights system, their work can be summarized in three words: defend, educate, and inform. They defend human rights by litigating cases; they educate by providing training and capacity-building in the field of human rights; and finally, they inform by making case law available to the public and spreading awareness of African human rights mechanisms.
Founded in 1998 by Julia Harrington and Alpha Fall, two lawyers who had worked for the Secretariat of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, IHRDA offers pro-bono legal counsel as part of its “defend” mission in order to provide all African citizens with access to justice via national, African, and international human rights mechanisms. Most recently, the organization provided human rights education to a variety of officials from different government services in Gambia, such as those from the National Assembly, prison guards, drug law enforcement officers, immigration services.
In order to inform the public, IHRDA publishes materials on human rights, such as their popular, free-to-download A Human Rights Defender’s Guide to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. It is the first book to trace the development of the African Commission’s interventions for the protection of human rights defenders, including lawyers, reporters, activists, politicians, and more. Among IHRDA’s other publications, one can find a collection of decisions of the African Commission on human rights in the field of communication, an introduction to legal aid in the Gambia, and a pamphlet on the landmark decision on the nationality of Nubian children born in Kenya.
Since its inception, the organization has litigated more than 35 human rights cases in 15 African countries. Among the many cases and topics for which IRDHA has advocated, citizenship rights for people who are stateless or who have been stripped of their citizenship because of their ethnicity are at the heart of its work. In 2011, together with the Open Society Justice Initiative, IHRDA won a major victory for the children of the Nubian ethnic group in Kenya, whose citizenship is not recognized at birth and are often forced to pursue a long, complex process with no guarantee of acquiring citizenship. Securing a ruling in favor of the Kenyan Nubian children, IHRDA proved that Kenya was in violation of its obligations under the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child for denying Nubian youth the chance to acquire a nationality.
To ensure the effective implementation of human rights decisions and recommendations, IHRDA aims to diversify the scope of its efforts and projects. Their Case Law Analyser, which is at the heart of its regional human rights work, collects human rights decisions from supranational bodies in Africa. Available online in English, French, and Portuguese, this free searchable database makes it possible to easily access and research human rights cases. Similarly, IHRDA maintains another database for decisions on sexual- and gender-based violence, and facilitated the creation of a database on children’s rights for the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
This year, IHRDA celebrates its twentieth year of operating in the field and it has been recognized for its work with the Human Rights Award during the 52nd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire. Among its most recent cases, the institute sought justice for a Liberian refugee who died in Guinean police custody. With a Guinean partner, IHRDA brought a case before the ECOWAS court, alleging that the state had failed to investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible for the refugee’s torture and death. On April 23, 2018, the court ruled in favor of IHRDA in what the organization called a “major step towards ensuring justice for the victim, and curbing impunity and the prevalence of torture perpetrated by the police in Guinea.”
Through its litigation, capacity-building, and informative databases, IHRDA has advanced the cause of human rights across the continent during its two decades of operation. Whether fighting for the rights of expelled black Mauritanians, organizing human rights training for Gambian officials, or pursuing justice for victims of repression in Guinea, IHRDA continues to be active throughout Africa, and you can read more about their latest work on their website.
By Maya Chhabra, May 2018. Maya Chhabra holds a Bachelor's degree from Georgetown University in Russian and Government. Her poetry has appeared in numerous magazines, and she is passionate about writing and translation.