Introductory remark of Commissioner Solomon Ayele Dersso - Joint Forum of the Special Mechanisms of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, 25 April 2024 Azalai Hotel, Dakar, the Republic of Senegal


Please allow me to stand on existing protocols and address you all as sisters and brothers

A very good afternoon to you dear sisters and brothers and for those of you like me who are inspired by the revolutionary movements, I am pleased to extend my greetings as comrades. 

It is really very nice for me to see you all gathered here in Dakar for this joint forum of the Special Mechanisms of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, the subsidiary bodies of the Commission that support the execution of the mandate of the Commission focusing on priority thematic subjects. 

Considering that the presentation of the status of ratification of various human rights instruments by the Director of the Office of the Legal Counsel, in my remark I would make framing observations emphasizing why we should not limit our conversions to technical and legalistic perspectives which would be out of sync from the urgency and dynamics of this moment. My observations thus focus first on the indispensability of social movements, mass actions and agency of people for the defense and protection of human and peoples’ rights, second on being very uncomfortable about the state of human rights and the utter inadequacy of our work as commission and the human rights community, third on making noise and finally and fourth on doing no harm. 

In our conversation during the coming days, we have to be careful of not making this a conversation among the converted, a conversation essentially of elites. We have to be careful about becoming complacent. The collective wisdom we have here should help us avoid from descending into engaging in patting our selves on the shoulder and portraying ourselves as champion of the good and saviours despite the nobility of our cause and the field of our work. Our being part of this community working for a noble cause is essentially responsibility and not an achievement or privilege. 

These words of caution are premised on the thesis that those who are the principal defenders of human and peoples’ rights, those who daily face the forces of oppression and unfreedom are the people, the ordinary women and men of this continent. Our role is to enable and support people in their role and effort of claiming, exercising and defending their rights. It is only when our work creates the conditions for ever increasingly expanding people’s agency that we can claim to have played our part and well. 

Social movements, those engage in mass actions, activists and those individually and together challenge the conditions of oppression are the ones, not us, who are the frontline champions and promotors of freedom. They are the ones who breath life in to the dead letters of human rights instruments. 

We should go no further than our own host city Dakar for searching evidence for this. It is the young women and men of Senegal who led and mobilized the mass action that rejected and defeated at various junctures during the past two years the various manoeuvres of former President Macky Sall for crippling the democratic rights of Senegalese. As they lay down their lives and sacrificed their limbs and liberties, the young women and men and those who joined them in staging mass protests in the face of repressive use of police power, they once again illustrate the clear lesson that the history of freedom and dignity is solidly written and guarded by the women and men who engage in such social mobilization, organization and mass action. We all have to applaud them and draw inspiration from them. 

They are the lights that shine the road and the fire that fuel the engine of progress in the pursuit of ‘freedom, equality, justice and dignity’, the values and ideals that underpin the rights enunciated in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. 

It is them, the young women and men of Senegal and of Sudan who affirm to us that ‘there are still glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughter house that was once known as humanity.’

For many across the breadth and depth of this continent this is a time of deep and in many ways painful discomfort. Are we feeling this discomfort? Is the shield of our social status blocking our senses? If we are feeling uncomfortable, how uncomfortable are we? 

All the indices from the social, political, security, economic and environmental sectors suggest that the masses of our people are in a great deal of discomfort and deep unease. They are enduring the indignities of socio-economic dispossession and deprivations, physical and social dislocations and displacement, mass atrocities. They bear the discomfort of the abuse, assault and extortion of the security and administrative instruments of the state held by government agents. 

We should feel deeply uncomfortable. We should feel deeply disturbed. 

It is only when we feel the anxieties and growing discomfort that many across the continent endure that we get to feel outraged. Our sense of outrage by the injustice and oppression becomes the energy for action – for making noise – not the noise that Former President of Gabon Ali Bongo called on the world to make when he was ousted from power. Ours is a noise against injustice, against mass atrocities and against the many indignities causing unimaginable discomfort for masses of our people on the continent. 

After all the most potent tool we have at our disposal in pursuing our role is our voice. The noise that those of us gathered here matters a lot. Silence or inaction for us is a betrayal of our pledge, abdication of our responsibilities.  

But Did we make any noise when the young women and men of Senegal face the repressive power of the police by expressing solidarity with them and affirming the validity of their cause and legality of their protests? We are living at a time when Africa witnessed the deadliest war in the world since the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda. Did we even know such war has taken place and claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands? Did we make any noise about it? Are we making enough of such noise about the war in Sudan that indiscriminately murders, maims and displaces people or the fighting in Eastern DRC forcing the displaced into repeated displacement? 

What did this Commission do about all these situations? Are we doing enough on Sudan?  What happened to the mechanism it put in place in respect of the deadliest war of this era, a mechanism instituted with a lot of fanfare? How did it end up silently shelved? How did it come to an abrupt end? 

It is here that I would like to make the last point of my remark. This is about the principle of doing no harm. After making a commitment to exercise its mandate in a certain way and raising the expectations of victims and families, failing to pursue such commitment to its logical conclusion without any convincing reasons and under dubious circumstances and timing is not just a betrayal of one’s commitment. It is being complicit in and causing further harm to victims. How do we account for this? How do we avoid from causing similar harm? We have the utmost responsibility in upholding the do no harm norm. Surely, being indifferent does not align with our role. Yet, the least minimum we can do is to do no harm. 

Let me end by reiterating the primacy of the agency of rights holders, the people, about being deeply uncomfortable, making noise and doing no harm. 

Thank you so much for your kind attention and I wish us all critical and reflective conversations during the coming days.