Building trust is key for human rights in Africa

20 Feb 2023

Participants from member churches and LWF country programs in eight African countries met in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, to share best practices and challenges in monitoring governments’ implementation of the UN's Universal Periodic Review reports.



UPR Implementation and Peer Learning workshop in Zimbabwe

Participants in the UPR Implementation and Peer Learning workshop in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. All photos: LWF/S. Ndlovu and P. Bangoura

Workshop participants hear how trust between church and government is vital for successful human rights monitoring 

(LWI) - “Cultivating a healthy working relationship between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe (ELCZ) and our government has been the secret ingredient in successfully monitoring implementation of international human rights instruments,” says Rev. Dr Elitha Moyo, who leads ELCZ’s advocacy work.  

Rev. Dr Moyo encouraged other Lutheran World Federation (LWF) member churches and country programs to nurture good relationships with their governments, “who are the primary duty bearers as far as upholding and promoting human rights is concerned.” Her comments came during a recent workshop on the implementation of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Africa. Held in in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, the workshop was also an opportunity for the human rights advocates to learn from each other.  

The 7 to 9 February gathering brought together 23 participants from Cameroon, Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Tanzania and Zimbabwe to focus on engagement with the United Nations’ UPR mechanism. The workshop was facilitated by LWF Advocacy Officer for Gender Justice, Ms Sikhonzile Ndlovu, together with LWF’s advisor on human rights and advocacy in Kenya, Lillian Kantai.  

[We] identified non-controversial issues to kickstart our engagement with the government as we continue to build a relationship of trust.

– Collins Onyango, LWF South Sudan

Participants shared challenges and lessons learnt through successful engagement with the UPR process in diverse contexts. These include government suspicions of civil society organizations involved in human rights advocacy, the need for increased funding and capacity building, as well as the challenge of countering misleading theologies and building closer collaboration with local and international development partners. 

Despite external factors such as shrinking civic space, weak judicial systems and a reluctance on the part of some church leaders to engage in human rights advocacy, Collins Onyango of LWF South Sudan spoke about the success of so-called ‘soft advocacy’ in engaging “unfriendly” governments and the importance of involving all stakeholders in the process to create a sense of ownership.  

“In my country, the South Sudan Civil Society Coalition has identified non-controversial issues to kickstart our engagement with the government as we continue to build a relationship of trust,” Onyango said. “Non-confrontation has worked well for us, and we have achieved the desired outcomes of our advocacy,” he added. 

Justice Oman of the All-Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) encouraged participants to utilize regional platforms and mechanisms such as the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, a quasi-judicial body tasked with promoting and protecting human rights and collective rights throughout the African continent. 

On the third day of the workshop, a local government delegation led participants on a site visit to Mberengwa, a small mining town in central Zimbabwe. Mberengwa is well known for its gold and lithium deposits, which has led to small-scale informal mining activities as citizens grapple with rising poverty. Zimbabwe's UPR review noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had affected all sectors of the economy. Lives and jobs had been lost and food insecurity was widespread as a direct consequence of the pandemic.  

Participants also visited an LWF-supported community garden, where women are involved in agricultural activities, following skills development and advocacy training on economic justice. Local government officials and traditional leaders applauded LWF’s efforts and pledged to ensure the garden’s sustainability, as they see the benefits it has brought to the lives of local women and their families.  

The UPR is a process established by the Human Rights Council to regularly review the human rights records of all 193 UN member states. Representatives of the states under review present actions taken to fulfil commitments made, while civil society representatives are encouraged to submit information and recommendations.

LWF/P. Hitchen