Statement at the Special Edition of the 52nd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, held on 9th October 2012 at the Fondation Felix Houphouet Boigny, in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast

Your Excellency, Alassame Ouattara, President of the Republic of Cote D’Ivoire; and Chairperson of ECOWAS;
The Lord Mayor of Yamoussoukro;
Your Excellency, The Prefect of Yamoussoukro;
My Lord, Chief Justice of The Republic of Cote D’Ivoire;
Honourable Members of the National Assembly;
Honourable Ministers of the Republic of Cote D’Ivoire;
Your Excellency, Commissioner, Department for Political Affairs of the African Union Commission;
Your Excellencies, Madam Chairperson, Vice Chairperson and Members of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR);
My Lord, Chief Prosecutor of theInternational Tribunal Court on Rwanda;
Your Excellency, Madame Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights;
Members of the United Nations Family present – UN OHCHR, UNOCI and UNOWA;
Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps;
The Chairperson and Executive Governing Council Members of the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (GC/ACDHRS);
Distinguished State Representatives;
Venerable Religious and Traditional Leaders;
Representatives of National Human Rights Institutions;
Representatives of National and International NGOs;
Representatives of the Press;

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen; All protocols respectfully observed

Twenty-five years is indeed a milestone! It is a historic and important time, whether it is in the life of any human being or any institution.  It is a time to muse over those moments that have brought success in its wake as well as those other moments we might have changed, given the opportunity.  It is indeed a time to pause, to reflect and to get more prepared for a sombre stance towards the challenges of the future, having been armed with the wisdom and experience of the past.

It is, therefore, my pleasure coupled with a great sense of humility that I stand before this august gathering of the African human rights community, on this auspicious occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (hitherto referred to as ACHPR or The African Commission), charged with the responsibility to give a statement on behalf of all my colleagues of the Forum of NGOs in the Work of the 52nd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Before I proceed, permit me to request that we observe a moment’s silence for those Commissioners who have passed on.  We remember in particular the first Chairperson, Mr. Isaac Nguema, under whose leadership the African Commission started its first foot forward.

On behalf of the Governing Council of the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS); The NGO Forum Steering Committee; all the participants of the NGO Forum, and indeed on my own behalf, I wish to thank the Chairperson and Members of the African Commission for affording us this opportunity to accompany you in this walk along memory lane in a bid to realign your priorities and chart your forward direction.

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

The Forum wishes to also express its gratitude to the Government and people of The Republic of Cote D’Ivoire, this land of warm hearted Africans, for their hospitality, in facilitating the activities of this landmark session, the 52nd Ordinary Session and to reiterate the appreciation of the participants of the Forum of NGOs for the warmth afforded them during the preparatory mission, and moreover since their arrival in Cote D’Ivoire.  We note, with admiration that Cote d’Ivoire is hosting this momentous session of the ACHPR and has also taken it in its stride to present its initial state report to the African Commission, despite the challenges and austerity measures this beautiful land has been going through.

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Forum on the Participation of NGOs in the 52nd Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, was held from the 6-8 October, 2012, just before this historic Session of the African Commission.

In keeping with the celebration of twenty-five years of the African Commission this year,  the Forum adopted the theme ‘Celebrating 25 years of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’.

The Forum noted that while Africa has seen significant and positive developments in the human rights and democracy situation on the continent, it is worthy to observe an improvement in the respect for human rights, good governance and the rule of law.  The African Commission has indeed developed various instruments, made decisions and mechanisms to match this growing tide.  This august body has been able to adopt its rules of procedure streaming its operations and clarified various provisions of the Charter to States Parties and other stakeholders; developed guidelines setting minimum standards for compliance with the Charter; established mechanisms which have contributed to the building of jurisprudence as well as to the provision of information to the Commission; made laudable contributions to international human rights law in its communications; examined the states reports of about 40 states parties; granted affiliate status to National Human rights Institutions and observer status to Non Governmental Institutions; among other developments. Moreover, we are all here today, witnesses at this momentous silver jubilee session of the African Commission and would like to take this opportunity to salute, most especially, all past and present Commissioners.  We congratulate the current Chairperson, HE Catherine Dupe Atoki and Members of the African Commission; the Secretary and Members of the Secretariat for continuing to keeping the torch of human rights shining; to all State Parties and indeed the people of Africa for whom this treaty body was established.

The role of the African Union in strengthening the continental framework to promote and protect human and peoples’ rights in Africa has spurred the pursuit of human rights which has become an integral responsibility, by ensuring that the Human Rights Strategy for Africa is at the heart of the African Governance Architecture. The increased involvement of civil society organisations in the consultative processes are exemplary and commendable and have indeed gone a long way to enhance partnerships and promote ownership of the various processes by the African people.

While applauding these developments, the Forum asserted that Africa continues to face serious human rights challenges characterised by conflict, insecurity and violence.  Poverty, disease, internal political strife, resulting in the taking up of arms by rebel groups, arbitrary detention and extrajudicial killings continue to bring hardships to the majority of citizens of the affected countries, especially the women and children.  The situation in some States have remained a cause for concern, including Mali, Sudan and DRC where serious and massive human rights violations are being perpetrated against civilian population, serious challenges which call for a constant and increasing strengthening of the protective and promotional mandate of the Commission. The ‘Marikana incident’ in South Africa; the increasing and continuing Boka Haram attacks in Nigeria were also among the issues discussed.

Furthermore, the treatment of prisoners especially those on the death row brought the recently related cases that took place in The Gambia to the fore.  As a result the Forum called on States to respect the right to life and the moratorium on the death penalty.

The Declaration of the Forum will be forwarded, for the kind consideration of your august body, as our contribution to your deliberations at this 52nd Session.

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

On behalf of the participants, please allow me to reiterate the readiness of the NGO community to work with these mechanisms in the realization of their mandates. As partners in the process, we are committed to putting all our expertise and resources at the disposal of the African Commission in the realization of the various objectives.

In the true spirit of the African Union’s Constitutive Act in which the Heads of State of Africa professed a ‘common vision of a united and strong Africa, energised by partnership between governments and all segments of civil society’, representatives at this Forum reaffirmed their commitment to the reinforcement of this partnership with the African Union and all its organs, not the least, the African Commission, in the furtherance of human rights, good governance and the rule of law in Africa.  The Forum participants have continued to demonstrate their  dedication to the work of the African Commission by their enthusiastic and passionate contributions to the preparations leading to their participation in this Session.

The Forum, while pleased with the progress made by the African Commission notes that serious challenges with the potential to affect its effectiveness persist. I would like to take this opportunity to launch an appeal to states and indeed the international community to continue to support the strengthening of this institution, which will, no doubt, go a long way towards the effective implementation of it mandate.

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

On behalf of ACDHRS and indeed the participants of the Forum of NGOs, allow me to wish The Honourable Chairperson and all the Members of the Commission, fruitful deliberations and a successful silver jubilee session.

Thank You for your kind attention.

HJF,
ACDHRS,
October 2012

OS52-NGO Statement (full text in English, PDF)

African Civil Society Call for the relocation of the African Commission on Human and Peoples` Rights headquarters from The Gambia

8 October 2012

To: Heads of government of AU member states,
CC: Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Africa
Permanent Representatives to the African Union;
Members of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

African Civil Society Call for the relocation of the African Commission on Human and Peoples` Rights headquarters from The Gambia

Excellencies,

We, the undersigned non-governmental organisations, participating at the NGO Forum and the 52nd Ordinary Session in Yamoussoukro and to the  commemoration of the 25 years of the establishment of the African Commission Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, are writing to call to your attention the ongoing widespread and systematic human rights violations in  The Gambia and to call on African Union Member States to take urgent action for the relocation of the African Commission and Human and Peoples` Rights headquarters from The Gambia.

The Gambia government has over the years walked a path of continuous infractions on the fundamental rights of the Gambian citizenry, specifically in the following instances- the assassination of Deyda Hydara and the  extra-judicial killings of 48 innocent migrants, [mostly Ghanaians] in 2005; disappearances of Ebrima (Chief) Manneh and Daba Marena and five other security officials in 2006;  the abduction, stigmatisation and drugging of mostly elderly women accused of being ‘witches’ in 2007;  and the continuous harassment and jailing of journalists and illegal closure of private media houses deemed critical of the Gambia Government; and the systematic dismantling of institutions of governance- the legislature and judiciary particularly.

The continued threats heaped on human rights defenders- especially given utterances made by President Jammeh, that he cannot guarantee the safety of human rights defenders working in The Gambia, does not make Banjul an ideal human rights capital of the African continent. Gambia`s government has breached every single principle that the African Human Rights Charter espouses, and  it has been requested, on numerous occasions, to respect its obligations to the Human Rights Charter, especially given the fact that it is hosting the Commission.

President Yahya Jammeh’s regime’s continued position to ignore the calls for reforms by its peers, civil society and the international community and its determination to continue to violate the rights of its own citizens through the rule of terror, and instilling fear within the general public, was further proven when it illegally executed nine inmates on death row, (following a pronouncement by President Jammeh to kill all death row inmates) and conspired with state security agencies to cover it up.

Moreover, the contempt shown by The Gambia government to the ECOWAS Court, by its refusal to honor the court ruling to produce Chief Ebrima Manneh and compensate his family, as well as compensate Musa Saidykhan for torture meted out to him whilst under the custody of state security agents.  Arbitrary arrests and cruel treatment has now become a weapon wielded by the Jammeh regime against the citizenry, where acts of police brutality are rampant.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights must now, after decades of humiliation and disrespect shown to it by the Gambia government, be freed of the shackles of its host nation, and provided with the a home that respects and espouses the prescribed articles of the continental human rights Charter: article 3- equality before the law and protection by the law; article 4- respect for human life; article 6- right to liberty and protection from arbitrary arrest; article 7- right to fair trial and presumption of innocence until proven guilty; article 9: right to receive information and express and disseminate such information within the law; article 10- freedom of association; article 11- freedom of assembly; article 12- freedom of movement; article 25 duty to promote human rights; article 26- duty to guarantee independence of courts.  All such articles have been systematically and deliberately breached by the regime of the very nation that such a sacred document was named after, and entrusted with the privilege of hosting a continental human rights body.

Excellencies,

The government of The Gambia has betrayed the trust of its own citizens and foreign nationals alike. And it has also demonstrated that it is an unreliable partner and an unworthy host of an enterprise established to protect and promote the rights of the African citizenry.  The sole honour of calling Gambia host of the ACHPR must now be withdrawn; a bold move that will demonstrate Africa’s resolve to uphold the sanctity of life, right to liberty, freedom, good governance and democracy.

We believe that the Government of the Gambia does not possess the moral authority in principle and practice, to continue to be bestowed with the privilege of hosting a human rights Commission secretariat, since it has demonstrated time and again that the protection of and respect for human rights is not a priority. The act of relocating the human rights Commission from The Gambia will be a milestone in our collective journey travelled over the 25 years we marched, as we embarked on a continental quest of promoting human rights for every African man, woman and child; irrespective of ethnicity, political leanings, different orientations, religion or race.

We therefore call on all member states of the African Union, to relocate the African Commission on Human and Peoples` Rights from The Gambia;

Excellency, we thank you for your attention to these concerns. We remain available to provide further information as may be useful.

Sincerely,

OS52-letter relocation Commission (full text in English, PDF)

Declaration of the NGO Forum to the African Commission

We the NGOs participating at the NGO Forum preceding the 52nd session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights at La Foundation Felix Houphouet-Boigny, Yamoussoukro, Cote d’Ivoire from 6th– 8th October 2012

Contrary to previous NGO Forums during which numerous resolutions were presented to the Commission we will hereby present one declaration highlighting the various issues that we as the NGO Forum believe to be critical. While some of these issues have been addressed by the Commission additional work still needs to be done. The purpose of this document is to remind the Commission of the various resolutions presented about these issues and to encourage it to take the necessary steps to ensure that violations within these domains. Specifically, recommendations will be presented.

We recognize the Commission’s work towards the advancement of various mechanisms adopted over the years to improve human rights in the region despite the difficult working conditions in monitoring accountability and redress of violations.

Freedom of Expression

Regarding Freedom of Expression, the NGO Forum calls upon the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to:

  1. Adopt and actively implement ATI laws in line with Article 9 of the African Charter and the Declaration of Principles on FOE in Africa
  2. Ratify the AU treaties that impact on ATI and FOE on the continent
  3. Implement fully recommendations from the Commission
  4. Put in place urgent and effective mechanisms to protect journalists from attacks by State entities and private individuals
  5. We also urge the Commission to pass a resolution urging the AU Head s of State summit to urge Member States to pass a Special Declaration allowing citizens and CSOs direct access to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights

Murder and Violence on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Regarding the murder and violence on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the NGO Forum calls upon the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to:

  1. Pass a resolution condemning the increased incidences of murder and violence on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity across Africa and to call on States to respect their obligations under the African Charter to investigate and prosecute both state and non-state actors who perpetrate these violations and abuses

Indigenous Peoples

Regarding the rights of indigenous peoples, the NGO Forum calls on the ACHPR to:

  1. Ensure specific attention to and protection for the rights of indigenous populations uprooted from their lands and territories as a consequence of discriminatory government policies, the impact of armed conflicts, and the actions of private economic interests.

Refugees, Migrants, and IDPs

Regarding the state of refugees, migrants, and IDPs, the NGO Forum calls upon the ACHPR to:

  1. Support the SR to visit each sub-region, in particular South Africa, Libya, Equatorial Guinea, Mali, and Kenya, to identify the real situation of refugees and migrants and the state of their rights on the ground.
  2. Remind states of their obligations under the African Charter and other instruments related to migrant, refugee and IDP rights,
  3. Urge states to ratify, domesticate, and implement the provisions of the Kampala convention
  4. Encourage states to cooperate with SR visits, in line with their mandates.
  5. Reaffirm the ACHPR’s recognition of the rights of Indigenous People.
  6. Develop a binding protocol to the African Charter for non-state actors to comply with human rights standards
  7. Comply with article 169 of ILO
  8. Comply with the UN resolution on Indigenous Peoples.
  9. Ensure the legal enforceability of ESC rights of indigenous peoples.
  10. Ensure free prior informed consent as a framework for development that may affect the lives and livelihoods of Indigenous People.
  11. Ensure access to justice for people whose economic, social and cultural rights are violated
  12. Strengthen the legal enforcement of economic, social and cultural rights

People with Disabilities

Regarding the situation of people with disabilities in Africa, the NGO Forum calls upon the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to:

  1. Collaborate with civil society organizations to draft an African Protocol for Persons with Disabilities
  2. Urge member states which have not signed and ratified that United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to do so
  3. Support a visit by Special Rapporteurs to Mali and Cote d’Ivoire to investigate the state of the rights of persons with disabilities and elderly persons, and to include their findings in their report

Children’s Rights

Regarding the rights of the child, the NGO Forum calls upon the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights to:

  1. Ensure coherence and collaboration between the various communications and state reports on issues regarding the rights of the child
  2. Facilitate the collaboration of Commission and Committee members stationed in the same country to conduct joint in-country missions regarding the rights of the child
  3. Urge member state to condemn the practice of human trafficking, particularly of women and children, address the root causes of such trafficking, and enforce measures against trafficking, and facilitate the return of victims of trafficking and provision of compensation
  4. Consider establishing a thematic group on youth to report on the state rights of youth in all reports, and submit all youth-related recommendations from their reports to the AU Committee on the Africa Youth Charter.
  5. Reinforce and accelerate cooperation between the AU Committee and the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights

Pre-trial Detention, Policing, and Torture

Regarding the issues of pre-trial detention, policing, and torture, the NGO Forum calls upon the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights to:

  1. Call on states to ensure that arrests are carried out on grounds clearly established by law, in accordance with international standards, without discrimination for any reason.
  2. Call on states to guarantee that prison conditions are in accordance with international standards and protect all rights of detainees
  3. Urge state parties to allow access to the Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Places of Detention in Africa to all detention facilities in their respective countries.
  4. Call upon states to uphold the international standards for prisoners’ rights to legal counsel, access to medical care, and freedom from torture
  5. Call upon states to ensure that police forces abide by international standards for public order policing, including refraining from the use of excessive force.
  6. Urge member states which have not ratifying the UN CAT to do so.
  7. Develop specific guidelines for member states to fully address the needs of survivors of torture as per Part III of the Robben Island Guidelines.

Women’s Rights

Regarding the status of women in Africa, the NGO Forum calls upon the African Commission to ensure:

  1. That the Special Rapporteur on Women’s Rights in Africa use the Protocol on the Rights of Women as a blue print to analyze all state reports and require that all state parties to the Charter and the Protocol ensure that women’s issues are incorporated into their reports on their countries.
  2. That all special mandates incorporate women’s rights in their specific mandates and closely collaborate with civil society to evaluate the progress of states in implementing of recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women.

 Transitional Justice

Regarding the issue of transitional justice in the African countries, the NGO Forum calls upon the African Commission to:

  1. That the African Commission supports domestic mechanisms to address the impunity gap beyond the prosecution of persons bearing the responsibility for serious crimes.
  2. Promote increased emphasis on restorative justice.
  3. Call on States to include victim participation at all levels in transitional justice processes to adequately address their needs.
  4. Ensure the development of mechanisms that secure and protect victim participation.
  5. To encourage a multi-sectoral approach to transitional justice mechanisms which include consultations with relevant actors and institutions.
  6. Encourage the development of context specific transitional justice mechanisms as derived from victim and stakeholder consultation.
  7. Continue supporting institutional reform in countries going through a transition.

Environment, Human Rights, and Extractive Industries

Regarding the issues of environment, human rights, and extractive industries, the NGO Forum calls upon the African Commission to:

  1. Monitor the Marikana Commission of Inquiry and the Liability of Police and the Mining Companies in the events of 16th August 2012.
  2. We call for the establishment of the Special Rapporteur on Rural Development to focus on local communities and their land rights, environmental impact, consultation, compensation and reparation. 

Human Rights Defenders

Regarding the situation of human rights defenders in the African continent, the NGO Forum calls upon the African Commission to:

  1. Provide special attention and ensure protection for groups of human rights defenders who are facing greater risks, including as women human rights defenders, LGBTI activists, journalists, bloggers and others working in the field of media, defenders working in environment rights, defenders working during conflict situations, indigenous populations and people living in African islands.
  2. Urge member states to take effective steps towards demilitarization of institutions and reform of laws curtailing and criminalizing the work of human rights defenders, and include the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in the national laws.

Death Penalty

Regarding the death penalty, the NGO Forum calls upon the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights to:

  1. Strongly condemn the execution of nine inmates in The Gambia on 23 August 2012, as well as the secrecy which surrounded the execution and the refusal to return their bodies to relatives, and call upon the government of Gambia to respect the right to life and to comply with the moratorium on the death penalty
  2. Condemn the executions that took place in South Sudan in 28 August 2012

Country Situation of Particular Concern; Sudan

Regarding the special situation of Sudan, the NGO Forum calls upon the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights to:

  1. Condemn the killing of civilians by Sudanese government in Darfur, in the Nuba mountains and in the Blue Nile

Reprisals

On the issue of reprisals against those who cooperate with the African human rights system, the NGO Forum acknowledges the adoption by the African Commission in its 50th session of the resolution ACHPR/Res.196(L) 2011 calling on African states to end reprisals against individuals and groups which collaborate with the African human rights system. However, those who collaborate with the African human rights system continue to be targeted. Therefore, the NGO Forum requests the commission to set up a follow-up mechanism which will allow the Commission to collect all the cases of reprisals and to hold concerned governments accountable, taking the UN system as an example.

Done in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast

8th October, 2012 

OS52-Declaration NGO Forum (full text of Declaration in English, PDF format)