Closing Speech of the Vice Chairperson of the African Commission, Commissioner Mumba Malila


Closing Speech of the Vice Chairperson, Commissioner Mumba
Malila delivered at the Closing of the 48th Ordinary Session 
of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

Honourable Minister of Justice and Attorney General of The Republic of The Gambia;
Honourable Members of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights;
Honourable Members of the Governmen
Excellencies Members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps accredited to the Republic of The Gambia;
Distinguished Delegates of African Union Member States;
Distinguished Representatives of International Organisations;
Distinguished Representatives of National Human Rights Institutions;
Distinguished Representatives of Non-Governmental Organizations;
Distinguished Invited Guests of different designations;
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen;
All protocols respectfully

We have come to the end of what was on all accounts, a very successful session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Allow Honourable Attorney General and  Minister of Justice, in my own name and on behalf of the Members and staff of the AFRICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN AND PEOPLES’ RIGHTS, to convey to you, the President of the Republic of The Gambia, His Excellency, Professor, Dr Alhaji A. J. J. Jammeh, His Government and the People of The Gambia, our profound gratitude and sincere appreciation for hosting the 48th Ordinary Session of the African Commission.

It has been a long two week devoted to auditing the human rights situation on the continent over the past six months. In this regard, I would like to pay tribute to my fellow Commissioners, for the important sacrifice they make in their contribution towards promoting the human rights of African peoples and enhancing the profile and visibility of the Commission, to ensure that it remains a credible human body on our continent.

We commend our traditional colleagues in the NGO world for expanding the scope for the enjoyment of human rights on our continent. NGOs have no doubt  contributed significantly to widening space for the enjoyment of human rights throughout our continent by playing a role in checking abuses of human rights in the countries in which they operate. They have  spearheaded campaigns for greater respect for and observance of human rights and dignity everywhere in the continent, by blowing whistles and raising red flags whenever they see violations being perpetrated. They have immensely facilitated the communications procedure under the African Charter before the Commission and have defined the structure of the working program for the African Commission throughout its existence. Thus far, their human rights activism around various human rights themes within the framework of the African  Charter, taking into account positive aspects of African values and traditions has been highly impressive. The challenge for human rights activists and NGOs on these issues is to maintain the momentum of human rights activism in order to create, foster and nurture a culture of observance of human rights, a climate of legality and infusion of human rights and traditional African and moral values into their human rights advocacy. As many as possible of our people on the continent should move together in understanding and appreciating advocacy for human rights. If NGO do not move in tandem with the views concerns and the aspirations of the people whose rights they seek to champion, there will naturally be a disconnect and the gains that we have made over the years may well be whittled down.

As we end the 48th Session we need to critically reflect on our successes over the years in promoting and protecting human rights and also on the various issues that daily undermine the enjoyment of human rights in our continent. 

The African continent has witnessed decades of immense human rights challenges resulting from a diverse range of factors including civil wars, poverty, corruption and autocratic  governance. The situation of human rights in Africa unfortunately continues to be of grave concern in spite of the existence of the Charter and the implementing organ it creates, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

As we well know, in many parts of our continent today, some of those who wield political power chose to misapply and abuse it. Election fraud and intimidation are the order of the day, dissenting opinions are suppressed for nothing better than political expediency, the press is muzzled and intimidated, the judiciary is undermined. In a word, there is absence democratic governance and the rule of law. Regrettably the rule of man rather than the rule of law is the norm in some countries in our beautiful continent. Absence of the rule of law is a perfect recipe
for anarchy and the continuing threats to the enjoyment of human rights. The protection and promotion of human rights are cardinal virtues to democratic governance and sustainable development on the continent and these are an integral part of the African Union’s core values. The consolidation of democratic governance and the promotion of constitutional rule and human rights demand that we should always have a climate of legality about us. If, as we sometimes see in some African countries, those with executive authority violate the law with
impunity, disregard court orders and impose their rule against the will of the voters and are in the front line in the open raping and plunder of state resources for personal gain, a climate of illegality prevails. And a climate of illegality is the very antithesis of the rule of law and the enjoyment of human rights.

The irony with Africa is that it is a continent endowed with abundant natural resources and yet it is the poorest continent on earth. It has some of the richest people in the world residing alongside the poorest of mankind. We are justified to ask why millions of people in this continent today are imprisoned by poverty. Why are so many people all over this rich continent without employment, homeless, hungry, illiterate, unable to access proper medical care, and without safe water and sanitation? Why are thousands of our people dying each day from hunger and preventable diseases such as cholera, malaria and HIV/AIDS? Is this due to our leader’s neglect or dereliction of duty, or is it due to people’s laziness, or unequal distribution of available resources? Is poverty natural and intractable? These are the questions that we, as states parties delegates, representatives of international and regional organisations, NGOs assembled here should ask ourselves every day, but, they are also questions for which we should endeavour to find answers as Africans.

The challenge we should all strive to address adequately is to expand human rights activism to the link between the denial of economic social and cultural rights to many of our people on the continent and their ability to assert their civil and political rights. This challenge, I believe, involves making the law an instrument of positive transformation, an instrument for the  betterment of the social, economic and environmental circumstances of our people, our communities and our countries. It entails establishing a link between the law and issues in the daily
struggles of our people such as hunger, malnutrition, disease, pollution, exploitation, poverty and under development.

In recent years we have seen a welcome rejuvenation of the drive towards closer integration of the African continent which had been central to the pan African vocation since Kwame  Nkhrumah’s time. The transformation of the Organisation of African Unity into the African Union and now the move towards the African Authority and the establishment of the New  Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) speak volumes about this new commitment. In its wake, important new pan African initiatives have been fashioned. A pan African Parliament and an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights are among some of the critical institutions that have been born. We have great optimism that the recent entry on the human rights  scene of the Commission’s younger sibling, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights will contribute positively to the African human rights landscape.

While there are many victories we can cite from the recent political developments at the continental level and also from the African Charter and the regional human rights system generally,  there is plenty of work left to be done. African countries must support the newly established institutions, especially the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights by ratifying the Protocol on the Establishment of the Court and more importantly by making the necessary declaration under the Protocol recognizing individual access to the Court. They must develop strategies for African parliaments to promote democracy. They must observe their obligations under various regional and international human rights instruments and respect the decisions of the  institutions they have created, including the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. It is incongruous for state parties to fail to support the institutions they create by routinely disobeying their decisions and recommendations, ignoring requests by Commissioners to undertake visits to these countries, and by failing to submit their periodic reports under Article 62 of the Charter. In her speech to this Session, Her Excellency Julia Dolly Joiner, Commissioner for Political Affairs, at the African Union Commission alluded to this lapse by some States Parties. She appealed to Member States to fully support the work of the African Commission The time has therefore come to transform our opportunities from promise and potential, to effect and result, by creating a virile and enduring institution that can serve as an effective and reliable vehicle for African emancipation and

Member states of the African union must ratify the instruments that are adopted within the auspices of the AU. As a matter of urgency African states should promote and support the African  Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance by ratifying it and domesticating its provisions.

In their own jurisdictions, they must learn to accept and embrace divergence of opinion within the rank and file of their subjects as a sine qua non to true democracy. All of us in the human rights family on this continent; the National Human Rights Institutions, human rights Non Governmental Organisations, human rights learning institutions, activists, regional courts,  individuals, etc., must be up and going in ensuring that our governments are reminded to live up to their obligations and commitments.

While we strive to chart the course for our future in dealing with human rights peace and security on the continent it is equally important that we do not ignore the need to deal with some of the issues from our past that risk compromising the forward march of democracy and peace on the continent. Considerable anguish and bitterness still pervade many segments of society on this continent as a result of the extensive nature of human rights violations in some African countries in the not too distant past. An inexhaustible catalogue of human rights violations from various parts of the continent exists. The torture and brutalization of citizens, the disappearance of political opponents, the extra judicial killings, the detention of scores of citizens without trial, the demolition of dwelling houses in sweet sounding operations and the wanton destruction of properties, the seizure without compensation of private property, the  displacement of indigenous peoples and communities from their ancestral lands in the name of development, the murder of peaceful demonstrators, xenophobic violence and attacks, the ritual killings of albino, unabated rape of defenseless women in civil war torn areas, post election violence, to mention but a few examples, continue to generate a great deal of controversy and ill feelings within our body politic. We on the African continent must address these matters through genuine reconciliation designed to heal and bind the wounds of the past to signal an end to the cycle of vengeance and vendettas that has so disfigured our history as a continent. It is time we freed, as much as humanly possible, the future from the debris of the past and thereby enhance the possibility of consolidating and deepening our hold on democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law over our continent. Only then can we talk about human rights, lasting peace and stability. That, in my view, is the best basis on which to tackle with unity of purpose and action the enormous challenges of economic development and growth  facing us in Africa today, so that in our time, we shall see the back of mass poverty in our continent.

As we leave the 48th session of the African Commission, let us all remember that only practical implementation and not political rhetoric and lip service to the ideals set out in the African Charter will bring about lasting peace and security on our continent.

Let me take this opportunity to express my heartfelt appreciation to the staff of the Commission. With a handful of legal officers executing a multitude of tasks and only a handful of support staff, it is sometimes a wonder how they somehow manage to get the work done. To the drivers, interpreters, translators, I say a big thank you. I would also like to pay tribute to my fellow Commissioners, for the important contributions they have made during this two-week period as we knuckled down to work. I have witnessed at close range your dedication, your attention to detail, and your personal sacrifices for the cause of human rights. Unfortunately, our Chairperson had to leave us at the start of the Session because of a death in her family. Our thoughts are with her at this difficult moment.

Let me also take this opportunity to express my heartfelt appreciation to the staff of the Commission. With only a handful of legal officers and a few support staff executing a multitude of  tasks, it is sometimes a wonder how they somehow manage to get the work done. What can I really say? Except to say thank you. I also want to reserve some special thanks to our drivers, interpreters and translators. We all know that without them there will be no Session. 

Thank you very much.