Bureau Régional pour l’Afrique de l’Ouest
 Interview with Andrea Ori from UNOWAS Magazine #13 ©

Interview with Andrea Ori from UNOWAS Magazine #13

Interview with Andrea ORI

Andrea ORI is the Regional Representative of the West Africa Regional Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, a leading institution of the United Nations responsible for the protection and promotion of human rights in West Africa. UNOWAS Magazine wanted to know more about his perspective and the role of his office. Interview.

You are the Regional Director of The UNCHR Regional Office for West Africa (WARO), can you tell us more about your office ?

The Regional Office for West Africa (WARO) established in 2008 is the main UN agency in charge of the protection and promotion of human rights in West Africa. The office has consolidated its expertise and know-how in the field of promotion, protection, and mainstreaming human rights into the UN programmes and activities. Human rights perspectives and issues have been channeled through a consolidated partnership with UN agencies and funds, at country and regional levels. Strategically, the Office is part of the larger response that the international community and the UN have elaborated to respond to the regional challenges faced by West African countries. WARO and its partners have set up new mechanisms and enacted new policies to act upon the cross-border nature of many political, securities, human rights, humanitarian, environmental, and technological concerns. This will drive the work of the regional office together with the international community for the next year.

A task which not easy giving the multiplicity of challenges, particularly with the ongoing threat of the Coronavirus pandemic ?

The West Africa sub-region comprises of 15 States, with a population of nearly 400 million people and covering an area of roughly 5 million km². The most considerable changes in the region in the past four years concern the democratic transitions mainly in Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and The Gambia. Despite some progress in the democratic space in these countries, during the last year, there have been some regressions on the humanitarian and peace & security in Burkina Faso, with a possible spillover to the coastal countries such as Togo, Benin and Cote d’Ivoire. In addition, West African countries continue to face challenges related to economic, social needs and climate change. The negative impact of the COVID 19 pandemic on the economies of the region is eroding progress made to improve Economic Social Cultural Rights, transitional justice, impunity, inequality as well as climate change.

You rightly stated : “that the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the economies of the region is eroding progress made to improve ESCR, transitional justice, impunity, inequality as well as climate change.” Can you tell us more about what was achieved- and what is your office concrete support ?

The region has seen some improvements regarding gender and equal participation of men and women in policy, decision, and law-making bodies, as well as, in key State positions throughout the sub-region. In February 2017, The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ministers adopted four key documents to advance gender mainstreaming and the inclusion of women in political, peace, and security processes. However, women continue to face discrimination, and gender-based violence is still widespread which explains the adoption, last month, by the Heads of states and governments of the region of a Declaration on Zero Tolerance to Sexual and Gender-based Violence and the Elimination of all Forms of Violence Against Women and Girls at all times and circumstances within the ECOWAS Region.

In terms of our concrete action, at the regional level, WARO has supported initiatives aimed at harmonising national legislation with international human rights standards, in particular on women’s rights and rights of LGBTI persons. Very soon after the outbreak of the pandemic on the continent, our office which chairs the UN Regional Gender Thematic Group has shared key insights and recommendations on how the COVID 19 would impact the situation of women and sexual minorities to inform decision-making in this regard.

With WARO’s technical assistance, several national legislations have been reformed in order to conform to the ratified international and regional instruments to protect women’s rights and promote gender equality. The many West African States are signatories to international and regional treaties and conventions.

The COVID 19 pandemic has once again challenged some of the progress made, in particular, the centrality of obtaining accurate data on this matter proved crucial. To respond to this need, WARO developed a project with UNICEF and UN Women to assess the impact of the pandemic from a gender perspective in several countries of the region such as Senegal, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire or Sierra Leone. In 2021, the Office intends to continue this work and support the realization of additional surveys and additional analysis intended to support decision-making by all actors.

In 2021, the focus will be put on understanding how the pandemic has affected their work and on supporting the participation of women, particularly women human rights defenders. With regard to the members of the LGBTI community who were already victims of wide spread and systematic violations of their rights in several countries, WARO will continue to support the documentation of their cases to inform innovative advocacy, building capacities of their organizations, facilitate the exchange with other key actors such as special procedures’ mandate holders and bilateral partners.

According to various reports, the situation of children in the sub-region is also of concern. What is your assessment and what are the actions your office has taken to address this issue ?

The situation of children in the region continues to be worrisome, as early marriages, various forms of exploitation, including forced begging, child labour, and traditional practices affecting their health continue to take place. In response, ECOWAS adopted in 2017 a strategy for the protection of children’s rights in West Africa.

Through its support to governments in strengthening national legal and institutional frameworks relating to children’s rights, the office has been able to position itself as an essential partner in the promotion and protection of children’s rights in West Africa. In this sense, the implementation of the Project to support the protection of child victims of violations of their rights (PAPEV) financially supported by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation will contribute significantly to the promotion and protection of children’s rights. The Covid-19 pandemic has further highlighted the plea of neglected children, especially those living on the streets or in “daaras” (so-called Coranic schools that accommodate them in insalubrious conditions) without any protection or care. It is in this context that WARO in partnership with ECOWAS has proposed to the governments of six countries supported by the project (The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, and Senegal). WARO has supported the health and psycho-social care, but also the return and reintegration of the children into their families of origin.

What are the key activities and projects your office envisages to undertake for 2021 to help address the multiple challenges ?

On Treaty Body Capacity Building Pogramme, WARO will continue its engagements aimed at supporting member States in complying with their implementation of human rights instruments and reporting obligations to human rights mechanisms, as well as improving their capacities in cooperating with those mechanisms. This will help to sustain progress achieved in establishing NMRF in all countries of the region. WARO’s efforts will particularly seek to resorb backlogs reporting under ESCR, CEDAW and CRC. WARO will also continue to support States’ engagements with the UPR for Togo, Niger and Sierra Leone, laying the ground for the year after for Benin and Ghana.

The Regional Office has significantly contributed to the establishment and strengthening of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI) to improve the national protection systems, and enhance the monitoring of and protection against human rights violations, with a special focus on women’s rights. Support from the office to the members of the Network of NHRIs will continue to enhance their effectiveness and help them to align their statutes to the Paris Principles on NHRIs.

The office has already established a project jointly with UNODC and financially supported by the Kingdom of The Netherlands to enhance the capacity of the Member States of the region to protect the rights of migrants. The PROMIS project promotes a human rights-based response to smuggling of migrants and addresses
human rights violations related to irregular migration in West Africa.
In 2021, PROMIS aims to consolidate its achievements in the focus
countries (Senegal, Mali, Niger, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia) and will
move towards the next phase (phase 3) that will start in the course
of the year for a duration of 4 years. WARO will continue the ongoing
work in the focus countries and will expand with additional activities in
Burkina Faso, Chad and Nigeria. Strong emphasis will be on enhancing
capacities of national authorities, CSOs and other stakeholders to
apply a gender-sensitive approach to migration. Specific attention will
go to the socio-economic rights of migrants and the implications of the
Covid-19 crisis on the rights of migrants.

Furthermore, still addressing the frontier issue of people on the move a
new project will be implemented in close collaboration with headquarters,
to address the human rights, migration and climate change nexus
in the Sahel region. The CLIMIS project promotes a rights-based and
gender-sensitive approach to migratory challenges posed by climate
change. The project contributes to the implementation of the SDGs,
the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM)
among others.

The Office will also enhanced its engagement with youth, particularly
young human rights defenders. In a project on youth and women
human rights defenders, the Office will contribute to ensuring that their
voice is heard in the efforts to build a society that is fairer and more
respectful of the rights of all in the post COVID era.