Background

Action Professionals’ Association for the People (APAP) is a not-for-profit, non-partisan and indigenous non-governmental organization established in 1993 with the main objective of providing legal services to the marginalized or otherwise disadvantaged sections of the Ethiopian society. It also aims at accessing information on the human rights of citizens guaranteed under international, regional and national human rights instruments so as to enable these groups bring about an attitudinal change and become informed and active participants in the overall development process. Hence, ever since its establishment APAP has been designing and implementing projects and programs for the promotion and protection of the human rights of the marginalized and otherwise disadvantaged sections of the Ethiopian society.

During the initial stages of its development APAP’s areas of operation, as well as activities, were limited. It was Addis-centered in terms of geography, and legal aid and legal education centered in its intervention. Project-based intervention has also been the main feature of the organization at this period. Moreover, these projects implemented by APAP had been so close to the ultimate target groups justifying its existence. Project areas at this period include: Community-based legal education, paralegal training, sexual exploitation of children, promotion of public interest litigation and public defense lawyering, administration of juvenile justice, rights of displaced children and street law.

Successful implementation of these interventions immensely helped APAP to: push the agenda of promoting and protecting basic human rights in general and the rights of marginalized sections in particular; look into systematic ways of disseminating human rights and legal information to the public at large; and work towards the sustainable availability of legal aid and accessibility of the justice system in Ethiopia. These projects also enabled APAP to make such issues as paralegal training, basic community legal education, sexual exploitation of children (child prostitution) and public interest lawyering national issues needing attention and intervention of government and non-government actors.

In August 1995 APAP’s registration was cancelled for technical reasons, by the then Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, which temporarily affected the organization’s existence and resulted in the abandonment of all planned programs due to the fact that the process of resolving the issue took almost two years.

The period from 1997-1999 could be taken as second phase in APAP’s intervention characterized by aggressive promotion of human rights information to officials of government institutions such as courts, the police and public prosecution office as well as to Kebele administration officials and community level institution and opinion leaders. APAP performed this by adopting a two-year operational plan which lasted from January 1998 to December 1999 and which was implemented in collaboration with governmental institutions, in particular, with justice sectors of the Amhara, Oromia, Southern Nations Nationalities and People’s Regional states, Harari, Dire Dawa and Addis Ababa Administrations. During this period APAP in collaboration with the Raoul Wallenberg Institute and the Amhara Region’s Justice Bureau and Supreme Court pioneered a systematic training of all social court judges in the Amhara Region. The publication and dissemination of user-friendly Ethiopian “Street Law” booklets was also realized in this period along with many other information, education and communication materials including posters, leaflets, magazines and newsletters.

In addition to human rights promotion activities, during this period APAP initiated the formation of voluntary, autonomous professional associations in different regional states by providing technical, financial, and material support. These autonomous associations were supposed to engage in human rights promotion and legal service provision activities, and amongst which are the currently operational: Tesfa legal Professionals’ Association for the People (in SNNPR), Selam Legal Professionals’ Association for the People (in Harari) and Biruh Legal Assistance Association (in Dire Dawa).

Overall, the implementation of the two-year operational plan has helped APAP to accumulate a wealth of experience and competence in organizing trainings, producing training manuals, conducting action-oriented research, and generally in identifying areas APAP could best and successfully intervene. It also helped it to identify and establish good working relationship with its donors, regional governments and law enforcement and judicial bodies, community-based voluntary associations and professionals as well as to draw lessons for refining its operations and management, organizational development concerns such as by revising its statute, introducing a computerized accounting system and a new financial manual.

The third stage, so to say, in the operation of APAP covers the period from 2000-2004 where it planned and implemented activities focusing on corruption as an overriding socio-economic and politico-legal problem which is gravely affecting the poor as well as the realization of rule of law and human rights in Ethiopia. Programs designed and carried out accordingly included training and education targeting local administrative, justice and law-enforcement officials to strengthen their capacity in fighting corruption and other human rights violations and interventions towards enhancing the capacity of community level organizations in mobilizing their constituency for the promotion and protection of human rights and fighting corruption. Publications of various forms; including leaflets, booklets and posters were produced to meet the same objective. Moreover, APAP conducted research on the problem of corruption and its impact on human rights in general and economic, social and cultural rights in particular. A lobbying workshop was also organized on the enforcement of international human rights instruments in Ethiopia. It could be said that the exercises during this period equipped APAP with valuable experiences to venture on more focused programs and strategies for the benefit of the marginalized and otherwise disadvantaged sections residing in its intervention areas. It also helped it to push the corruption agenda not only as an economic and moral problem but also as a key human rights concern that is both a cause and effect of human rights violations. However, though APAP had chosen the problem of corruption in order to be more focused and bring about measurable impact, it was not entirely without any limitations particularly due to the essential nature of political will in fighting corruption, the overlap of the program objectives and core ideas in relation to the government’s political agenda and institutional mechanisms towards “fighting” corruption as well as the political sensitivity of the issue.

The last stage in the organizational development of APAP is the period from 2005 to date, wherein rights-based thinking and the rights-based approach (RBA) underlie the operation and identity of APAP. Commitment of APAP towards rights-based approach starts with its expression and analysis of poverty, development and poverty reduction in line with the ‘capabilities approach’ of Amartya Sen and the rights way. This line of thinking has persuaded APAP to the understanding of poverty as a multi-faceted problem that needs to be addressed from different angles and requiring a multi-level intervention with the active involvement of those affected by it. This notion implies, among other things, that poverty should be seen beyond income poverty and as a situation caused and sustained by the dynamics of power relationships in the processes of resource allocation, policy and decision making, and distribution of benefits resulting there-from. The logical outcome is the understanding of poverty by APAP as deprivation of capabilities as well as gross violation of human rights characterized by a state of indignity, inequality, injustice, dis-empowerment and exclusion. APAP thus believes that development and poverty reduction efforts in Ethiopia need to be addressed from the human rights perspective and by learning from the theoretical development and practical experience gained allover the world in operationalising a rights-based approach to development and poverty reduction.

Hence, as a result of such perspective in APAP, the thematic focus of intervention during this period, and for the strategic plan from January, 2005 to December 2007, has been shifted from corruption to economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights.

The overall objectives that emerged from the rights-based programming also highlight the rights-based nature of the intervention logic since they focus on building the capacity of the government to discharge its human rights obligations; influencing the legal and policy framework affecting the realization of human rights; empowering rights holders to claim their rights and initiating the engagement of civil society organizations in the promotion and protection of human rights and RBA. Increasing public awareness of ESC rights at the grass root level in collaboration with community based organizations like Iddirs, promotion of capacity-building among duty-bearers to ensure accountability for the realization of the rights, advocacy efforts related to international obligations arising from the rights through lobbying, media advocacy and campaigning, measurement of policy and progress made through conducting researches were the major activities during this period.

Key achievements during this period included initiation of discussion on the justicibility of ESC rights, reminding the government on the need for clear procedures in public interest litigation, establishment of human rights resource centers in collaboration with Iddir unions, which in turn provided legal awareness and counseling services to the marginalized community members; sensitization of law students from higher learning institutions on the jurisprudence of ESC rights; and organization of awareness and mobilization training to hundreds of members of the legislative, executive, judiciary and civil society at federal and regional levels, which is expected to serve as a foundation for future collaboration and cooperation.

The next section presents the revised organizational philosophy and strategies endorsed by the new strategic plan.