Speech by the Chairperson of the African Commission, H. E. Ambassador Salamata Sawadogo


41st Ordinary Session of the African Commission on
Human and Peoples' Rights
Accra, Ghana
16 - 30 May 2007

Honourable Minister of Justice  and Attorney General of the Republic of Ghana,
Honourable Members of the Government of the Republic of Ghana,
Honourable members of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights,
Excellency Mrs. Julia D. Joiner, Commissioner Political Affairs, Commission of the African Union,
Excellencies Members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps accredited to the Republic of Ghana 
Distinguished Delegates of African Union Member States,
Distinguished Representatives of International Organisations,
Distinguished Representatives of National Human Rights Institutions,
Distinguished Representatives of Non-governmental Organisations,
Distinguished Invited Guests of different designations 
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

On behalf of the members and staff of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, I wish to welcome you all to our 41st ordinary session holding here in Accra, Ghana. I wish to thank you for coming in large numbers from far and wide to join us to reflect and brainstorm on some of the burning human rights issues on our continent. I wish to particularly welcome our guests from outside the continent whose continuous interest in and support to the African Commission in particular and Africa in general continue to spur us on. 

Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to use this platform to formally congratulate His Excellency the President of the Republic of Ghana, Dr. John Kufour, the government and people of the Republic of Ghana for the successful celebration of the 50th anniversary of Ghana‟s independence. This anniversary is significant to Ghana but even more significant to Africa and the rest of humankind. It is your independence in 1957 that broke the backbone of colonialism in Africa and galvanized and inspired all an African, in Africa and beyond, to realize that freedom was near. It whetted the appetite of African freedom fighters to redouble their energies because they knew that the struggle for those noble ideals were rewarding.

Your Excellency,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Ghana‟s independence above all else, strengthened the quest for African solidarity, African unity and integration. Indeed, it rejuvenated the spirit of Pan-Africanism.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Allow me also to use this platform to congratulate President Kufour once again, but this time on his election by his peers to serve as the African Union Chairperson. President Kufour is leading this great continent at a time when a lot is expected of Africa and African leaders. The African continent is at a crossroads – the citizens are yearning for more freedom, good governance, accountable leadership and above all, a united and strong Africa that is capable of speaking with one voice on African issues in the international scene. This is the Africa has been bestowed to President Kufour to manage for one year, and the citizens of Africa and indeed the citizens of the world would be looking up to him to see whether he will rekindle the African dream and pave the way for the kind of Africa that the first President of this country, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah dreamt about : A strong Africa, capable of managing its own affairs and standing shoulder to shoulder with the industrialised world and I quote: an Africa“ founded on hope, trust, friendship and whose orientation is for the good of all mankind”.

Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The African Union has decided to dedicate its 9th Summit to be held here in Ghana to discuss the establishment of a Union Government. 

The ACHPR will follow the discussion of African integration and the creation of the Union Government with keen interest.

While awaiting the next Summit , I wish to draw the attention of our leaders to the fact that respect for human rights and human dignity is the core issue in regional socio-economic and political integration . It is an established fact that respect for human rights is the bedrock on which all human rights-based political institutions are founded. The realization of human liberty creates the will and the capacity for social and economic progress. The achievement of economic and social progress establishes the foundation for peace, unity and solidarity. Thus, human rights, human freedoms, peace and unity are intertwined, complementary and mutually reinforcing, indivisible and they constitute vital ingredients in regional integration efforts in Africa.

Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

With the attainment of political independence or self-rule, one would have expected an end to brutality, torture, maltreatment and the humiliation of the African peoples, and an elevation of the African race in the eyes of the international community. One would also have expected self-rule to encourage African leaders to uphold the principles of “freedom, equality and human dignity [as] essential objectives for the achievement of the aspirations of the African peoples” enshrined in the Preamble of the OAU Charter of 1963 and which still remains valid under the African Union.

Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

Africa's search for unity and social and economic integration is still on. Unity founded on respect for human rights, accountable and responsible leadership is what is needed for today‟s Africa.

Following the accession of elected governments through more democratic elections on the continent, majority of African leaders are imbued with a greater determination to elicit respect for human rights standards and to reaffirm their control over economic policy, conditions in Africa have turned to be more favourable for the creation of African Unity.

The African Union should be different from the OAU. The latter underscored more progressive issues likely to reinforce African Unity at a more rapid pace. The Constitutive Act particularly focused on the indispensable conditions to achieve unity, promotion and respect of fundamental human rights and principles of democratic governance, the participation of African peoples in the activities of the Union, the promotion of gender equality, the respect of democratic principles, the rule of law, the promotion of justice to ensure equitable economic development, the condemnation and rejection of change of government through non constitutional means.

Since the 1990's, African countries have recognized that their previous practices of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries did not yield any positive results. Our expectation is that this century would be an African Century, A century, which according to President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, would be viewed as one in which “Africans eventually emerged from the long period of obscurity and fear and emerged into an era where light can be found at the end of the tunnel with her dreams coming true”.

We, actors in the human rights landscape, are convinced that it is only through the blend of human rights, development and peace and establishment of open societies that African governments can demonstrate that the African Union would make a difference and that it not merely a change of name. Without a concerted policy by the AU itself and its members aimed at integrating human rights into development, peace and regional initiatives, it is unlikely that the Union can strengthen intra-African relations and move on to a better Africa Union.

The dream of a united Africa can become a reality if it is built on solid foundations marked by the culture and respect for human rights. We should simply demonstrate the will to do this and fully commit ourselves to it through the eradication of poverty, impunity, ignorance and all forms of human rights violations. The ACHPR is ready to address the challenge with YOU all.

Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

My terms as Commissioner and Chairperson of the ACHPR are coming to an end. I wish to take this opportunity to thank the Heads of State and Government of the African Union for the confidence they reposed in me to serve as a member of this prestigious body. I also wish to thank my colleagues for reasserting this confidence by electing me to steer the Commission. I think that I have contributed my part to the protection of human rights on the continent, first as a member of the Commission and foremost as Chairperson for four years.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Commission is a collegiate body composed of eleven Commissioners who carry out their missions and mutually reinforce each other. During my tenure as Member of the Commission, I have come to realise that the Commission has the potential of becoming the driving force in Africa‟s quest for unity, peace and development; that the full potential of the Commission had not been utilised for the benefit of the African people. I have also learnt a lot from men as well as regional institutions; I have also understood that sometimes it takes too long, far too long to implement decisions already taken. I have understood that where there is the will there will surely be the way and it takes an appropriate approach to obtain results.

Thus, over the past six years , I have seen men and women battling it out to ensure the respect for human rights in Africa and for better understanding of the principal institution in charge of their implementation; of course , we have tried to bring forth a dynamic Commission, capable of meeting the challenges posed by the transformation, but at the same time, making use of the opportunities of change occasioned by the peoples‟ quest for freedom, African leaders‟ desire for change and the dynamism of civil society and NGOs. Our team, I refer here to all the members of the Commission, took it upon themselves as a duty to take advantage of these opportunities.

In fact, the Commission has intensified its engagement with States Parties regarded as the principal partner in the promotion and protection of human rights. The Commission has strived to ensure that it is viewed by States as a valuable partner in their development process. Thus, in spite if the attacks and criticisms that are often unjustifiably made by some of the partners, the ACHPR has maintained its independence, while remaining vigilant, determining the basis for the dialogue and communication of the different partners. In fact, over the last four years, as a result of a decision taken at the Maputo Summit, the presentation of activity report by the ACHPR has always been done before the Executive Council of the AU. This situation offered the ACHPR the opportunity to engage in a frank dialogue with top officials of the States. During this interaction, our Commission, through their representative, the Chairperson, was not spared at all. But what we need to recall today among the lessons learnt are as follows:

  • First and foremost, there is a better understanding of the existence of the African Commission and the importance of its work, (for example, in their decisions, the Heads of State and Government Summit requested the member States to submit their reports to the ACHPR…)

Furthermore, in recent times, it is the representatives of the States that affirm their willingness to work towards its capacity building.

This is enough to make us forget the harsh words directed at the ACHPR during the sessions of the Executive Council.

Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our Commission has also strengthened its relationship with civil society bringing the number of NGOs to 370, national human rights institutions to 20 which have all been granted observer and affiliate status, respectively. The Commission has also strengthened its relations with international organisations and regional human rights bodies. All these initiatives have naturally increased the visibility of the Commission greatly and enhanced the impact of its operations.

Thus, continuing the work of our predecessors, we have consolidated dialogue with the State parties. In spite of the lack of resources, the Commission has undertaken promotion missions to States Parties, many more States are submitting their periodic reports in conformity with Article 62 of the Charter, many more states, NGOs, national human rights institutions and other international organisations are attending the sessions of the Commission, and there are many more communications being considered by the Commission during its sessions. A record number of African and non Africans are applying to our Secretariat for internship and research. We are thus gratified that we have been able to bring the Commission closer to the people whose interests the Commission was established to serve. Many more still do not know about the Commission – so the challenge of sensitisation and dissemination of information still remains.

We are particularly pleased that we have been able to win the confidence of most of the States Parties who, hitherto, approached the Commission with suspicion. We will not stop until we reach all the major stakeholders, so we can all join hands to put human rights in their proper perspective within the African development paradigm.

Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

During my tenure as Chairperson at the ACHPR ( four of the six years at the ACHPR) I, together with the Vice Chairperson, Mr. Yasser Mohamed El Hassan constituted the Bureau of the Commission and we have both worked as a team in a transparent and loyal manner. During the four years that we have held the mantle, we have tackled our duties to the best of our ability with all the constraints at the Commission.

If there is one area where we concentrated our effort, it is in strengthening the Secretariat of the Commission. We view the Secretariat as the power house of the Commission. A strong and efficient Secretariat is necessary for the success of the Commission and conversely. For far too long, our Secretariat has been seriously understaffed, depending almost entirely on donors for its human resource. We found this arrangement unacceptable and decided to make this our priority when we assumed duty. We constantly engaged authorities at the Commission of the African Unity and we are happy that the Secretariat currently has some permanent staff. The staff strength is largely below what we had asked for but we think it is a start and we have continued our discussion with AU authorities.

Just last week, we had a brainstorming meeting with the Permanent Representative Committee (PRC) to discuss our relationship and in particular the financing of the Commission, including recruitment of more staff. In this meeting, we also took the opportunity to present a new staff structure which we believe would enable the Commission enhance its effectiveness.

I am happy to express our gratitude to our partners in the Secretariat for their support. While appreciating their initiative for adopting innovative strategies, I urge them to continue to work in harmony with the African Commission through improvement in the communication with the Secretariat, the Bureau and the Commissioners.

our Excellencies,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

Members of the Commission are not full time, they meet only during the sessions of the Commission. It must however be emphasised that during the inter-sesional period, their time is shared between their professional duties in their respective countries and their commitments to the Commission. Moreover, the Commissioners, but more especially the Bureau, have been in constant contact with the Secretariat. This enabled me to make regular exchange of information and ideas on the operations of the Commission during inter-sessional periods. As chairperson of the Commission, I have sent out at least 15 urgent appeals over the past four years calling on States to take provisional measures to prevent any irreparable damages to individuals or measures to stem any violations.

Furthermore, together with my colleagues, we lobbied hard for the ratification and coming into force of the protocol on the creation of an African Court of Human and People‟s Rights as well as the protocol on the rights of women in Africa.

Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

If we achieved anything during our four-year tenure, it was the progress in the area of innovation, improvement in working methods, as well as the implementation of some special new mechanisms but we would also underscore the very difficult conditions emanating from external sources that are not within the purview of our institution. In fact, the Commission faces numerous challenges – some of them relate to the very integrity and independence of the institution. The major challenge is inadequate resources. This has resulted in the inability of the Commission to determine what to do and when to do it. I will give you a simple example – last March when the Commission received unprecedented number of reports and complaints from all over the world about „serious and massive human rights violations in a Member State‟, all the Commissioners, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Charter, accepted that there was need to hold an extraordinary session in order to listen to the parties and see how to assist. Since the Commission did not have money from its regular budget to fund the extra-ordinary session, it requested funding from the AU. However, we were advised by the latter that funds were not available.

So what do we do? The commitment and the will of the Commissioners are not enough. It was also neither an issue over which we could fold our arms. While the members of the Commission were contributing to the restoration of peace ( the Chairperson, the SR on press freedoms, the SR on HR defenders) wrote to the authorities of the State concerned. This is just an example of the kind of challenges we face at the Commission.

Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The challenges are many and of different shades. Poverty, obnoxious traditional practices, bad governance, impunity, armed conflicts etc that hinder the enjoyment of human rights.

I am confident that together we can make a difference. There are already signs that our leaders are beginning to appreciate the work of the Commission and the need to empower it to effectively play its rightful role in the transformation process currently taking place on the continent. The decision of the Executive Council of the African Union at its Tenth ordinary Session in Addis Ababa calling on the Commission to, with effect from 2008, present and defend its own budget before the PRC is an indication that the African Union is determined to support the Commission and could be seen as the turning point in the life of the Commission. We hope many more initiatives of this kind would be taken, not only by the policy organs but by all relevant stakeholders to enhance the effectiveness of the Commission.

Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

Before I conclude, permit me to use this occasion to thank and express my appreciation to you all, the people and government of the Republic of Ghana for offering to host our 41st session. It is also time for me to express my gratitude to H.E. Nana Akuffo Addo, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Ghana, who gave his unalloyed support to the ACHPR during the different sessions of the Executive Council. I also wish to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues for the opportunity to have worked with worthy and sincere personalities. I wish to express my gratitude to Mr. Yasser Sid Ahmed El Hassan, of the ACHPR with whom I have worked tirelessly in the Bureau. Mr. Vice-Chairperson, I thank you for your support, your friendship, your fellowship. My appreciation also goes to other members of the African Commission. Dear colleagues, your support, your friendship during my tenure were a source of encouragement. We shared a lot together; sometimes we had very emotional debates but we maintained our professionalism and put the interest of Africa above our personal interests. Thank you, thank you and thank you.

Let me also express my appreciation to the Secretariat of the Commission for all the support given to us in spite the very difficult conditions under which the staff operates. I would like to take this opportunity to also recognise the effort made by Mrs. Coleman Adwoa, during her short tenure as Acting Secretary of the Commission, for this session to be held here in Ghana. I cannot forget our team of interpreters and translators who have followed us throughout the continent and persevered with us sometimes under very difficult conditions.

Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Over the years, we have worked and shared a lot with our partners. I wish to take this opportunity to thank those who have continued to support the African Commission. In this regard, I wish to thank States Parties to the African Charter, organs of the African Union, in particular, the Commission of the African Union, through its Political Affairs Department, donor partners, international organisations and UN Agencies and special procedures, national human rights commissions, NGOs and all those institutions, organisations and individuals who in one way or the other have contributed in making the Commission what it is today. Together, in whatever position we find ourselves; let us support the ACHPR so that it can, in turn, contribute to the respect for human rights the most shared value in Africa.
I wish you success in your deliberations.

May God bless you.

I thank you for your kind attention.