Opening Speech by the Chairperson
African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Her Excellency Honourable Commissioner Catherine Dupe Atoki
the 51st 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;
- Excellency Mrs. Julia D. Joiner, Commissioner Political Affairs, Commission;
- 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 Organizations;
- Distinguished Representatives of National Human Rights Institutions;
· Distinguished Representatives of Non-governmental Organizations;
- Distinguished Invited Guests of different designations;
- Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen;
On behalf of Commissioners and Staff of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, I welcome you all to the 51st Ordinary Session, held here in Banjul, which has been rightly depicted as the ‘Smiling Coast of Africa,’ but more importantly because here in this soil, the roots of African freedom were charted more than 30 years ago. It was here in Banjul that we pledged that ‘freedom, equality justice and dignity are essential objectives for the achievement of the legitimate aspirations of the African peoples.’ It is no wonder that the African Charter is also referred to as the Banjul Charter. So, let me thank you all for coming from far and wide to join us to reflect and debate on some of the important human rights issues that are affecting all of us today.
However, before I continue, please allow me to use this platform, on behalf of the African Commission to extend sincere appreciation to the Government and People of the Republic of the Gambia for not only hosting another Session of the African Commission, but for the conducive environment and excellent facilities provided to ensure the success of this 51st Session.
Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and: Gentlemen
The African human rights system remains, as it always will, a work in progress: the Ordinary Sessions of the African Commission has become the forum where, collectively, we appraise the progress we have made over the preceding six months. This is not only about criticizing our State Mangers, but also about prevention of violations of human rights and about constructing scaffolding that supports and underpins the demand of people everywhere, for justice and dignity, especially those who suffer violence or marginalization.
The forces set loose by the Arab Spring have changed the region and indeed the world. Now, just as we must strongly support the green sprouts of democracy and human rights in many countries across the region, so we need to also remember that the work of constructing and of consolidation of gains made, is a journey fraught with challenges.
Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:
There has been a mix of important political and economic developments in many parts of our continent since we last met in November 2011. I dare say it’s a potpourri of the ‘the good the bad and the ugly’, to use a common phrase.
The recent election in the Republic of Senegal is a triumph for democracy and the rule of law, triumph for the principles of credible, free and fair elections; triumph for popular participation and above all triumph for the voice of the people, which is reflective of a new era, a dawn of civilization and civility. It is a triumph, which I am sure the people of Senegal will allow us to partake in and celebrate with them. I therefore seize this opportunity to congratulate the Representative of the State of Senegal and her citizens, herein present, for the tenacious drive to make their votes count and for the civility displayed by the former President, Mr Abdoulaye Wade for conceding defeat ahead of the official announcement of the results. Senegal has proved that with all its imperfections, an open democratic culture is the ultimate system of conflict management, where disputes are channeled through the political system, competing interests are reconciled through bargaining and problem solving, and the most deprived in society have an opportunity to influence policies that can alleviate the underlying root causes of conflict, poverty, inequality and social exclusion.
Two other elections that Africa was looking forward to equally celebrate were truncated and Africa was once more thrown back to the dark ages where coup d’etat was the norm. The putsches in the Republics of Mali and Guinea Bissau presented such ugliness that most Africans were not only visually disgusted and embarrassed, but were in great hurry to dissociate themselves from such irrationality. The Mali and Guinea Bissau putsches are even more absurd considering that elections were barely four weeks away in both circumstances.
The African Commission was quick to denounce both acts of unconstitutional change of government as violations of Articles 4(m)(p) of the Constitutive Act of the African Union and Articles 13 and 23 of the African Charter. I want to commend the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which moved speedily to remove the carpet from under the feet of the rebels in Mali, whilst the international community added their voice to the global condemnation and rejection of such blatant and unacceptable change of a legitimate government.
Let me at this juncture congratulate the people of Mali for a good fight. The African Commission continues to monitor the situation in Guinea Bissau and hope that a clear message is being sent from the events in Mali to those who think that the nascent democracy springing all over Africa can be undermined by usurping power through the barrel of the gun. Let me at this point congratulate the African Union and the 15 Member States who have ratified the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. The Charter was adopted on the 30th of January 2007 in Addis Ababa and on the 16th of January 2012, Cameroon became the 15th Member State to complete the ratification process. The coming into force of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance symbolizes the increasing recognition by many African states of the importance of democratic values and practices and is an appropriate response to the electoral challenges that evolving in Mali and Guinea Bissau. I am convinced that this Charter constitutes a framework of ideals, values and objectives for our collective future and I urge other African Governments that have not done so to ratify the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.
There have been other threats to the enjoyment of human rights on the continent - poverty, environmental degradation, climate change, neighboring conflicts and cross border consequence continue to hobble the development of social anchors that are critical to the stability of State. Time and space will not permit me to address them all. But the two which deserves our immediate attention is the two Sudans and the upsurge of terrorism.
The two Sudans, you may agree, is another depressing story. Sudan, once Africa's biggest country, has been in conflict for decades, with the north and south fighting for almost 40 years over differences in ideology, politics, resources, land and oil, claiming the lives of at least two million people and leaving another four million displaced. When South Sudan became independent in July 2011, the expectation of a new period of peace and stability in the region was high. However, Sudan and South Sudan have tethered dangerously on the edge of war many times within the last few months, especially over the oil rich Heglig area. There is no denying that Sudan is still highly unstable with a continuing humanitarian crisis in Darfur and ongoing conflicts in the Southern Kordofan region, which prompted the African Commission to dispatch a request for Provisional Measures for South Kordofan to the Government of Sudan.
I would like to finally refer to one heinous violation of human rights which affects innocent people the world over and which has recently invaded the landscape of Africa, particularly in Nigeria. Terrorism in Africa has come to constitute a serious threat to regional peace, security and development undermining the most cherished values and fundamental principles of the 21st century including development, democracy, human rights, and freedoms. The African Commission has on all occasions condemned all acts of terrorism wherever they occur in Africa.
Terrorism violates the African Charter and the principles and values enunciated in the Constitutive Act of the African Union and the Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council (PSC). States Parties have the obligations to guarantee the right to peace and security of their citizens. Thus, in their collective resolve and determination to deal with a common threat, Member States of the Union adopted in 1999 the OAU Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism. Furthermore to strengthen their collective efforts and to translate their commitments into concrete actions, States Parties to the African Charter established, in Algiers, Algeria, an African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism (ACSRT), an institution to boost the capacity of the Union in the prevention and combating of terrorism in Africa.
Since the nature of conflicts in the world has changed in recent times, both in its actual subject-matter and in the form of its expression, there is now an urgent need to form strong collaborative partnerships to address this growing unseen scourge that leaves in its wake a trail of blood, destruction and fear. In this regard, the African Commission needs to engage both the PSC and the Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism in a more constructive and proactive manner to address this growing menace of terrorism.
Against the backdrop of all these challenges the African Commission has taken up its mandate fiercely and with commitment. It has engaged States Parties as appropriate, promptly issued statements as the situation demands and generally networked with other stakeholders in the promotion and protection of the African Charter. Details of the activities of Members of African commission in this wise will be presented in the course of this Session.
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen: We have reached a divide in the road. In fact, throughout Africa, the victims of injustices are waiting; waiting for us to keep our word. They notice when we use words to mask inaction. They notice when laws that should protect them are not applied. We can do better. We must do better. As we debate common issues for the next two weeks, we should be aware that though the human rights landscape on our Continent has dramatically changed, creating new challenges, it has also occasioned numerous opportunities for the collective enhancement of human rights.
I therefore call on States Parties to the African Charter, National Human Rights Institutions, members of civil societies organizations and other stakeholders to collaborate with the African Commission in addressing the challenges earlier identified for us to truly live up to our role as regional human rights defenders. We should note that people who are continually denied the respect as human beings will not acquiesce forever in such denial! This is what the people of Africa demand and are expecting from us. The challenges are hugely diverse. They require imagination, determination and concerted commitments from us all to find collective solutions to our collective challenges.
I thank you for your kind attention.
Done in Banjul, The Gambia, 18 April 2012