OPENING SPEECH BY THE CHAIRPERSON OF THE
AFRICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN AND PEOPLES’ RIGHTS,
CATHERINE DUPE ATOKI
DELIVERED AT THE OPENING CEREMONY OF THE 54TH
ORDINARY SESSION OF THE AFRICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN AND PEOPLES’
Honourable Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Republic of The Gambia,
Honourable Members of the Government of the Republic of The Gambia,
Honourable members of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights,
H.E. Mrs Aisha L. Abdulahi, Commissioner for Political Affairs of the African Union 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 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 the 54th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights holding here in Banjul, The Gambia.
Allow me first of all to express our gratitude to the Government and people of the Republic of The Gambia for once more hosting this session and generously providing us with the facilities and a conducive environment necessary for the success of the Session.
Let me also express my appreciation to our many esteemed guests and participants, most of who have come from far and wide. Your presence and continuous support and interest in the work of the African Commission is eloquent testimony of your commitment to the cause of human dignity and the wellbeing of the peoples of our continent.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The 54th Ordinary offers us a framework to collectively exchange on and evaluate the situation of human rights on the continent and to review progress made in the implementation of the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. It also accords us an invaluable opportunity to be informed of the activities that the Commission has undertaken during the intersession in furtherance of its mandate to promote and protect human and peoples’ rights on the continent.
In the last two years, under my leadership, and of course with the unconditional support of my colleagues, the Commission has sought to reinvent itself and better respond to the needs, hopes and aspirations of its partners and the African people in general. We have continuously made efforts to review our working methods and improve our partnership relationships in order to enhance the promotion and protection of human rights on the continent.
More impetus has been given to our protection mandate with the establishment of the Working Group on Communications which has resulted speedy disposal of cases and a significant reduction in our backlog of cases. Correspondence with litigants has also been improved and there have been more concerted efforts to follow up on the implementation of our decisions. As a result, the Commission in the last two years was seized of 54 new Communications/complaints, considered 25 on admissibility and finalised 11 on merits.
Nevertheless, the material, financial and human resource constraints faced by the Commission are a constant blockage on its path to reform. While we persist at this task with the menial resources at our disposal, we would like to call on our partners of goodwill to continue to support our effort in any way possible in order that our objectives can be achieved.
Our engagement with State Parties, who are our principal partners and who bear the primary responsibility of ensuring the promotion and protection of human rights, has also been intensified. In that regard, I am happy to note that during this period, about 10 Periodic Reports were considered by the Commission, and six State Parties submitted their Periodic Reports in accordance with Article 62 of the Charter during the intersession. Some of these reports will be examined during this session. It is also worthy to note that the number of State Party representatives at our sessions has also increased considerably.
The Commission also undertook about twelve (12) promotion missions to various State Parties and I seize this opportunity to express the appreciation of the Commission to the countries that have graciously welcomed the Commission and engaged in a fruitful dialogue with it during the promotion missions. It is however sad to note that despite many appeals, some State Parties have not responded favourably to the Commission’s requests to undertake promotion mission in their territories.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Commission’s relationship with other international organizations concerned with the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as National Human Rights Institutions and NGOs, also continues to be strengthened in several aspects and the increased number of activities jointly undertaken by the Commission with these partners is a testimony of the strength of this relationship. The number of NGOs with Observer Status at the Commission has been increasing steadily over the years and many more applications for Observer Status will be examined during the present station.
The relationship with our sister institution, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights has also been exemplary and continues to be strengthened and consolidated in several concrete ways. Various meetings between the members and Bureaus of the two institutions have been held in the past two years, the most recent of which was held in Nairobi, Kenya in July this year. The discussions and collaboration framework that was put in place during these meetings will hopefully go a long way to foster our complementary relationship. Following the three cases that were earlier referred to the Court; the Commission has further been examining the possibility of referring many more cases under Rule 118 of its Rules of Procedure, to the Court in a more coordinated manner. We are hopeful that our litigants will soon be able to reap the fruits of our relationship.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Concerning the human rights situation on the continent, the Commission welcomes the positive gains that have been made in the democratic process in some State Parties. In that regard, I would like to particularly congratulate the Republics of Zimbabwe Mali, Cameroon and Guinea Bissau for organizing peaceful elections during the intersession.
We however note with dismay that many of the gains that have been made in several parts of the continent are constantly being eroded through the resurgence of conflict, terrorism, unconstitutional change of governments, gross human rights violations and the impunity that accompanies same. While considerable efforts to improve the lots of the masses have been made by many State Parties, millions of our people continue to live undignified lives, with many languishing in extreme poverty, without access to food, clean drinking water, proper healthcare, education and shelter.
It is this characteristic indignity that has forced many young peoples from the continent on perilous journeys looking for greener pastures elsewhere. We have all followed to the many recent news reports of hundreds of African migrants that die from boat and ship accidents off the Italian island of Lampeduza, and many more who die from starvation and thirst in the Sahara desert. It is noteworthy that many of the migrants are from conflict ridden and poverty-stricken countries on the continent. For many, it is insecurity, the lack of enjoyment of the basic civil and political as well as economic and social rights that forces them to seek desperate means to escape. These young men are fully aware of the risks and the fact that they undertake it is a clear indication of their misery and desperation.
Could these youth embark on such a perilous journey;
If they had food to eat, clean water to drink and adequate shelter?
Had access to education adequate healthcare?
Had jobs or other sources of a livelihood?
Not harassed and intimidated for their beliefs and identities?
Allowed to express their opinions freely?
In short, if they could realise their dreams in a conducive environment free of want and fear?
The answer would certainly be in the negative. The plight of these migrant should be a scar in the conscience of any government for pushing its youth to such perilous journeys in search of basic living standards which the African Charter enjoins State Parties to provide.
Our Governments therefore need to recommit to their obligation under the Charter to meet the legitimate aspirations of their people to freedom, equality, justice and dignity. There is an urgent need for all the abundant resources of the continent to be harnessed for the benefit of our populations.
The upsurge in terrorisms that recently led to the inexplicable savage violent terrorist attacks at the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya, the heartless slaughtering of school children and the havoc that Boko Haram continues to wreck in northern Nigeria, the bombings, assassinations and the deliberate targeting of judges, doctors as well as military and police officer in Libya, amongst others, are all very worrying and unacceptable situations that raise a lot of questions about the security situation on the continent. All these situations need a very swift response from African Governments and the international Community in general which must also endeavour at all times to adhere strictly to the respect of fundamental rights.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today, I stand on this rostrum with great humility and pride – humility in the singular opportunity accorded me by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African the Union to serve the continent for the past six years - the last two years of which my colleagues also reposed great confidence in me to steer the affairs of this Commission; pride in that I served my term with dedication and commitment. I have run the race to the end to the best of my abilities and contributed my part to the cause of human dignity in the continent.
At this juncture, I would like to thank my country, the Federal Republic of Nigeria for trusting in my abilities and nominating me to serve as Commissioner.
I also wish to thank the many State Parties that have supported our work all this while. It is a pleasure to note that many more State parties have taken renewed interest in the work of the Commission and no longer approach it with suspicion as was hitherto the case. The continuous support and engagement of the State Parties is a sine quanon to the effective discharge of the mandate of the Commission.
Let me also express my appreciation to our partners, with whom with have worked and shared a lot. I particularly thank the leadership of the African Union and the other AU organs with a human rights mandate, the United Nations office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Human Rights Council, UN Agencies and Special Procedures, National Human Rights Institutions, our donor partners, Non-Governmental Organizations and other organizations and individuals who have collaborated with us and supported our work. I want you to know that you support is invaluable to our work and will always be welcome.
To my colleagues, I say a big thank you for the confidence bestowed on me to lead this Commission and the close collaboration, loyalty and support I have enjoyed from all of you. We could only have achieved this much because we believed in a common cause and put in our very best to accomplish it. Thank you very much.
Finally, I express my appreciation to the Secretariat which is the backbone of the Commission. Despite the difficult conditions under which you work, your support is invaluable and I thank you.
As I mentioned before, the promotion and protection of human rights is a collective responsibility and no contribution to this cause can ever be small. We as a Commission and continent have come a long way, yet we still have a long way to go. Our success will be measured by our collective will and ability to uphold and defend the cause of human dignity. This is our call to which we must all answer.
May God be with you all.
Thank you for your kind attention.