Jennifer Brunner, Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio in the United States, visited Benin in August as part of a mission to the Beninese Human Rights Commission (BHRC). In a report sent to Afro-impact at the end of September, she shares her impressions.
In August 2022, I traveled to Cotonou, Benin, to provide pro bono assistance to the Benin Human Rights Commission (BHRC) as part of the USAID-funded Advancing Rights in Benin (ARB) activity implemented by the American Bar Association through the Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI). The purpose of my visit was to assist the BHRC in establishing standard procedures and written rules to better receive, manage and respond to the growing number of human rights complaints filed by an increasing number of citizens seeking the Commission’s services, especially since the opening of six regional resource centers.
Under its governing law, the Commission’s mission is to promote and protect human rights throughout the territory of the Republic of Benin. The establishment of the new regional centers was therefore a major achievement of the Commission, which enabled it to obtain international “A” status as a national human rights commission.
While in Benin, I spent time observing the handling of complaints in a regional office outside of Cotonou. I have seen Beninese citizens seeking help for injuries and injustices, and have been welcomed by a Commission that listens to their needs. Commissioners are dedicated to quality service and understand that good service equals public confidence in what they do.
The complaints I observed involved a variety of allegations, including land disputes, rape and sexual harassment, employment disputes, and albinism. Complaints were handled by teams of two commissioners in different rooms of the local resource center, with staff recording information about complaints as they were submitted. I was impressed by the compassion of the Commissioners, but also by their objectivity and firmness in advising the complainants on the next steps, such as filing a complaint with the Prosecutor so that the Commission can follow up.
I saw the expression of satisfaction on the faces of many complainants as they were listened to and their needs and concerns were addressed. It allowed me to discover how the Commission worked at its most essential level. I have the general impression that the work of the Benin Human Rights Commission is extraordinary. The care and dedication of its commissioners and staff is genuine.
The Commission has been guided by exceptional leadership, and the good relations between its leaders and the respect of its staff and all Beninese are evident and have undoubtedly contributed to its rapid success. As the Commission faces the next challenge of electing new Commissioners in just over a year, it will implement measures to institutionalize its progress and achievements and to ensure its long-term existence.
I recommended three short-term solutions to help the Commission strengthen its capacity and service to the Beninese people – access to transportation with state-provided cars to personally reach all regions of the country and to begin the work of examining the situation of Beninese prisoners, more IT improvements for greater efficiency and outreach, and a pilot project, conducted in collaboration with the Association of Women Lawyers, to more effectively combat gender-based violence.
The work of ABA-ROLI here has been very impactful and beneficial and I have had the privilege of observing and interacting with the Benin Human Rights Commission. I feel that there are people here leading the struggles of many people around the world, but who have a special ally in the BHRC to help them collectively, as citizens of their country, to work more effectively towards the realization of human rights.
The WRA activity implemented by ABA-ROLI is an initiative supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) that works with BHRC to provide training, technical assistance, deployment of human rights officers in six regions, and support to international accreditation.