SUMMARY REPORT OF THE NGO FORUM OF THE 32ND ORDINARY SESSION OF THE AFRICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN AND PEOPLES’ RIGHTS AND THE 6TH HUMAN RIGHTS BOOK FAIR
OCTOBER 14th -16th 2002
KAIRABA BEACH HOTEL, BANJUL, THE GAMBIA
In 1991, the International Commission of Jurists, ICJ based in Geneva, organised and assembled human rights NGOs to deliberate on thematic issues concerning the human rights situation in Africa, prior to the African Commission Session. This initiative, without doubt, yielded a good harvest, as it created an arena where NGOs met and spoke with one voice concerning the situation of human rights in Africa.
In later years, the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies ACDHRS joined the ICJ in organising this invaluable meeting. However, three years ago, the ICJ decided to pull out, and the ACDHRS thought that it is absolutely necessary that this already established tradition of the human rights NGOs be continued, since it creates an atmosphere for the NGOs to prepare themselves for substantial and constructive participation in the sessions of the Commission.
It is this noble tradition that the ACDHRS keeps alive, by continuing to organise and facilitate the NGO Forum, the latest being the NGO Forum preceding the 32nd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, which was held at the Kairaba Beach Hotel in Banjul, The Gambia from October 14th –16th, 2002.
Ninety-one participants from 69 NGOs, from 20 countries across Africa and beyond participated in the Forum.
1. Opening Ceremony
Day One of the Forum on the Participation of NGOs in the 32nd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and the 6th Human Rights Book Fair, witnessed a galore of assertive speeches from erudite personalities in the field of human rights.
The Executive Director of the ACDHRS, Mrs. Hannah Forster, in her Welcome Address to the participants of the Forum, said that the NGO Forum is an outstanding event in the calendar of human rights in Africa. She welcomed the participants who had come from all over Africa and beyond and most especially the participants of the recently concluded 5Th Training Course on the Use of International Human Rights Procedures for the Promotion and Protection of Women’s Rights in Africa.
Mrs. Forster expressed concern that this Forum is being held at a time when the intra and inter trafficking of women and children in the Continent is on the increase. She added that the rule of law, good governance and democracy in Africa is continuously being threatened. The situation in Ivory Coast and Liberia, She said poses a great cause of concern for all of us. “Our concerted efforts are therefore needed more than ever before, in order to restore the dignity of men and women not only in Africa, but in the world in general.”
The Executive Director of the ACDHRS further stated that the fruitful participation of the numerous NGOs present at the Forum cannot be over emphasised. NGOs’ collaboration with the African Commission, she said, has continued to embellish the work of the Commission, while the solid partnership built over the years between governments, NGOs and the Commission had initiated good networking opportunities.
She stressed that the human rights situation in our various countries have not improved much and hence pertinent themes such as the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in Africa will form the core of our deliberations during the course of the Forum. She also highlighted that issues such as the Africa Union (AU) and The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the Role of the African Commission, the Status of Women in Africa, Slavery and Child Trafficking and Human Rights and HIV/AIDS are major discussion themes for the participants. She emphasised that these issues should be thoroughly scrutinised, bearing in mind the role the African Commission is expected to play to be responsive to the needs of the NGOs and the African community at large.
Mrs. Forster once again welcomed the entire participants to the Forum and to the 6th Human Rights Book Fair, which ran concurrently with the Forum.
In a similar vein, the Secretary to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, Mr. Germain Baricako, said that presently there are 250 NGOs in the fold of the African Commission, who are all enjoying Observer Status with the Commission. He further stated that the relevant bodies of the AU have realised that the contributions of NGOs is relevant in fostering a greater interaction between the AU and civil society. One of the main priorities of the AU he said, is to meet the needs of the African peoples.
Mr. Baricako emphasised that human rights NGOs in the continent should work more closely with the African Commission thus helping the Commission in its work. He stressed that the Commission cannot make any remarkable success without the full participation of NGOs in its work. He finally stated that the African Commission, at its 32nd Ordinary Session would, eagerly welcome the Resolutions that would come out of the three-day deliberations of the NGO Forum.
The Chairman of the Governing Council of the ACDHRS, Mr. Mohamed Genedy, in giving his remarks, said, the African Commission remains the only mechanism of human rights in Africa and it still need a lot of help to develop its work.
Mr. Genedy called upon the Commission to work very closely with NGOs, in order to improve the human rights situation in Africa. He emphasised that since 1991, when the Forum started in Tunisia, there has been a lot of changes in human rights issues in the continent. “It is now time for us to reflect on how much we have achieved so far and what we really want to do in the future.”
He reaffirmed that with the coming of the AU, human rights NGOs will also have to revisit the human rights mechanisms. Are the mechanisms available to us sufficient for our course? Are we only interested in mechanisms that talk about human rights without any provision to punish human rights offenders? These Mr. Genedy said are very provoking questions that human rights NGOs should really think about. “We still need a lot of democracy in the continent”.
As NGOs, we must keep in mind that our work is for the African people. Hence we must always ask ourselves the question- “Are we really representing the people?” Our discussions during this Forum, he stressed, must be able to highlight the problems that the majority of Africans face every day, and hence to come out with the solutions to these problems.
In her turn, the Deputy Solicitor General and Legal Secretary and the representative of the Attorney General and the Secretary of State for Justice, Mrs. Fola Allen, in delivering the Keynote Address, said that human rights NGOs should stand independent of the government of the day and reasonably separated from the ups and downs of politics, so that individuals within the jurisdiction are able to obtain assistance in the promotion and protection of their human rights.
Mrs. Allen emphasised that respect for human rights require internal and external vigilance. Internal vigilance instilled by sensitisation for violative behaviour and external vigilance aimed at encouraging a group of individuals to act in defence of human rights.” Such defensive action she said, presupposes the existence of adequate protection mechanisms and of programmes, which seek to promote knowledge and the utilisation of the mechanisms.
The representative of the Attorney General went on to elucidate that as a country begins to ratify International Human Rights Instruments, something of a need arises for it to establish mechanisms to help ensure that the provisions of the instruments are being implemented. Human rights NGOs she said, can promote discussions and awareness of human rights concerns, in a way that is not easy for either the executive or the courts. If the Executive tries to do this, then they are accused of propaganda. If the judiciary tries it then they would be seen as becoming partisan. It is in this light therefore that NGOs must see themselves as duty bound to promote human rights.
This Forum today is therefore a clear manifestation of the cooperation between the African Commission and other African and international institutions concerned with the promotion and protection of human and people’s rights as enshrined in the Commission’s mandate in Article 45 of the African Charter on Human and people’s Rights. She therefore called on all the participants to be eternally vigilant in ensuring that the promotion and protection of human rights is sustained.
Mrs. Fola Allen then declared the Forum on the Participation of NGOs in the 32nd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and the 6th Human Rights Book Fair open.
2. Adoption of the Provisional Agenda
After the pleasantries of the Opening Ceremony, the Executive Director of the ACDHRS, Mrs. Hannah Forster, presented the Provisional Agenda to the participants of the Forum for consideration and adoption. During their deliberations on the Provisional Agenda for the Forum, the participants decided that Conflict Resolution and the Role of the International Society of the Red Cross should stand as a special theme rather than being in cooperated with the situation of refugees. The participants also decided to include the Role of the African Commission and its relationship with NGOs as a discussion theme in the Agenda. Finally, the feedback on the international instruments from the 5th Training Course and the Situation of Women in Africa were also added to the Agenda.
After these amendments, the Agenda was adopted.
3. Overview of the Human Rights Situation in Africa
The first session of the NGO Forum focused on The Human Rights Situation in Africa. The president of the National Organisation of Human Rights (ONDH) in Thies, Senegal, Mr. Mabassa Fall, gave a thorough overview of the human rights situation in Africa.
Mr. Fall highlighted that the human rights situation in Africa today, is confronted with a lot of contrast. A large percentage of what is happening in Africa today stems from the September 11 terrorist attack on the United States. This means that the situation has indeed worsened in the continent in particular, and in the world in general. According to Mr. Fall, “we have in fact taken one step backwards as far as human rights issues are concerned.” Security concerns today, he said, have dominated the world scene. Experts have cried out that there is a change in the paradigm – that is to say that security concerns have become more important than human rights matters.
He stated that the Twenty-First Century in Africa is a century of dictators. Mr. Fall mentioned that in Africa today constitutions are being manipulated by presidents who want to stay in power longer than necessary. This, he said had been the situation in Guinea Conakry, Tunisia, Togo, Chad, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Added to these manipulations is the issue of impunity, as evident in the Hussein Habre case in Senegal. In most African countries, the speaker said, government security agents have continued to commit gross human rights violations with impunity. This so called “political barricade” from justice under the shield of impunity, he said, must give way sooner than later in Africa.
Mr. Fall emphasised that the situation of women and children in the continent, had not changed much. Women are continuously being marginalised in all spheres of development. Trafficking in women and children, have also gained momentum in the continent. Harmful traditional practices such as forced marriages, early marriage, FGM, and domestic violence are also on the increase. The practice of stoning as punishment is also being used. The scourge of HIV/AIDS continues to take its toll on the productive members of the African society, most especially women and children.
In a very sombre mood, Mr Fall said that the situation in Ivory Coast today deserves our utmost attention. Ivory Coast, he said had been a model country in Africa, known for its relative tranquillity and vibrant economic growth. Today, October 14th, 2002 Ivory Coast is in a state of mutiny. The September 19th, 2002 uprising had divided the country into North and South, “Ivarite’ and the so-called non-Ivoirians” and to some extent, Muslims and Christians. This is indeed a very sad situation.
Mr. Fall linked the Ivorian problem today with the policy of political exclusion, introduced in the State by Henri Konan Bedie after the death of the former president, Felix Hophouet Boigny. This he said was a political strategy by Bedie, to shut the door on his political opponents, who were accused of not being Ivoirians. The introduction of “l’Ivarite” had shattered the social fabric of Ivory Coast, which consist of different ethnic groups and thus ushered in hatred between those who claimed to be the real Ivoirians and the so- called foreigners, most of whom were obviously born in Ivory Coast. “Ivarite” is thus a systematic form of discrimination and exclusion.
This form of discrimination had over the years witnessed the systematic massacre of many Ivorian nationals, most especially the victims of the discovered Youpougon mass grave in the North West of Ivory Coast. There has also been a tactical removal of certain ethnic groups from the police force and the army, most especially the Juula ethnic group. In addition to this, children born in Youpougon were given birth certificates of a different colour, thus doubting the Ivorian nationality of their parents.
At this point Mr. Fall emphasised that those responsible for the massacre in Youpougon, must be brought to justice.
He, however, condemned the military uprising to solve the problem in Ivory Coast. He stressed that military interventions have never solved any political problem in Africa. Africa he said must create a situation of collective security that respond to the situation of conflicts in a timely manner. “Military coups should be condemned once and for all.”
4. The Situation of Human Rights Defenders in Africa
The second part of Mr. Fall’s presentation was centred on the situation of human rights defenders in the continent. He said that according to the report of the Observatory of Human Rights Defenders, “in over 90 countries in the world, (30 among them African countries) human rights defenders are continuously being harassed and imprisoned”.
In Africa, Mr. Fall said that working as human rights defender has become a very high risk. African states have continued to develop very stiff strategies to muzzle anybody who wants to commit himself/herself to defend human rights. The families of human rights defenders are being threatened, human rights defenders are arrested arbitrarily, tortured and to some extent detained without trial in very in-humane conditions. They are constantly monitored and often labelled as “unpatriotic” with campaigns of libel and slander heaped against them, in an attempt to discredit their work. He cautioned the participants that as human rights defenders, the work we are involved in is really a dangerous one.
Mr. Fall went on to highlight that in Congo Brazzaville and the Democratic Republic of Congo, human rights defenders are often accused of being involved in politics. These accusations however are often meant to silence human rights defenders. He further stated that most of the time, we have seen regimes that do not tolerate any form of criticism. Human rights NGOs in such countries are not even allowed to leave their countries in order to attend the Commission’s Sittings. They are prevented from leaving their countries to come and testify on the atrocities that are committed by such regimes.
In the same vein, he condemned the attacks perpetuated against civilian populations in the disguise of fighting terrorism. This he said could not be justified anywhere. Terrorism he said must be condemned in all its forms and the perpetrators brought to book. What is important to note here, said Mr. Fall is that the perpetrators should be tried in accordance with international standards. “The control of terrorism cannot be used as a pretext to overshadow human rights. We must all agree that so far, a lot of excesses have been committed in this regard.
The African Convention on Combating Terrorism provides an appropriate legal framework for protection against terrorism, without really complying with the protection of human rights. Mr. Fall dismissed the American move of not allowing their soldiers to be tried outside the United States. This he said is an attempt to jeopardise the statute of the International Criminal Court. He urged participants at the Forum to lobby their governments to ratify the Additional Protocol of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Establishment of the African Court.
Despite the gloomy picture that is reflected in the presentation, Mr. Fall expressed hope that the future in Africa as concerns human rights issues would surely be better. He mentioned that there have been some positive developments in the continent, as we have witnessed free and fair elections in Mali, Ghana, Cape Verde, Benin and even in Morocco. In addition to this development, he said that there have also been some regional agreements on conflict resolution in Burundi, Sierra Leone and the DRC. This he said are very encouraging signs.
Questions, Answers and Comments
After the presentations the participants at the Forum asked a number of very critical questions, which generated a very lively debate. One interesting question that came up was in relation to the functions and effectiveness of the African Commission in its work as regards to the protection of human rights defenders. Participants also questioned whether it is not contradictory that state governments, who are the worst violators of human rights, are the ones who endorse the Commissioners.
Questions concerning impunity also took its hold on the floor of the Forum. Participants were seriously concerned about the activities of state agents and state organised crimes perpetrated against human rights defenders, political opponents and other members of civil society.
Despite the divergent views that erupted during the course of the debate, the participants of the Forum landed on a common ground in agreeing that there is a need for the African Commission to come up with a mechanism to protect human rights defenders against state agents covered with impunity. Participants at the Forum also strongly advocated for a Commissioner for Human Rights Defenders.
5. The Country Reports
The country reports were highly centred on diverse themes, which mostly focused on violence against women and the marginalisation of women, minority and indigenous people’s rights, the situation of refuges, HIV/AIDS, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, impunity and the situation of human rights defenders.
About 80% of the country reports indicated that women are being marginalised in almost every sphere of development. In most instances, women are not part of the decision-making process and their rights are continuously being violated. The reports further affirmed that violations against women’s rights are on the increase. The issue of trafficking women and girls, forced prostitution, early and forced marriages, FGM, slavery and rape were highlighted as serious concerns that affect women in Africa. Most women delegates at the Forum lamented that rape is now being used as a legitimate weapon of war and ethnic violence. A significant number of women are being raped and sexually assaulted in most war torn countries in the continent. This indeed is a very serious matter, taking into account the number of HIV/AIDS cases in the continent.
In relation to violence against women, the country reports also mentioned that HIV/AIDS is on the increase in the continent, and mostly affects women and children. Certain country reports like the report from the Republic of South Africa did indicate that HIV/AIDS should now be a top priority for most governments since it is wiping out the most productive sector of their populations. They thus called on governments to reduce their spending on arms and ammunitions, in order to cater for the increasing number of people living with HIV/AIDS in order to eradicate the stigma associated with the disease.
But perhaps, the most sensitive violation revealed by the country reports, is the “practice of stoning” in certain African countries such as Nigeria. Shocking revelations were made concerning the bias trials of women who are accused of adultery. One such report indicated that it is only the poor and uneducated women who are being sentenced to death by stoning, while male associates are allowed to go free, provided that they swear with the Koran in their hand.
Another pertinent course of concern reflected in the country reports is the issue of minority and indigenous people’s rights. One such case is that of the Kalahari Bushman Tribes, of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, in Botswana. The report indicated that the government has terminated all social services in the area including the provision of food, water, electricity and health services to the original owners of the land in order to force them to move from the land, disregarding their rights of existence as a people.
Closely related to the issue of minority and indigenous people’s rights is the concern for refugees and internally displaced peoples. One report did mention that refugees are normally placed along the boarders without adequate security, which makes them very vulnerable to attacks from the agents of their home governments. The report stated further that refugees are highly discriminated against and their freedom of movement curtailed by the host state authorities by refusing to issue them with identification papers. The “Food for Sex Scandal” in the refugee camps in West Africa, was highly condemned by the delegates of the Forum as a serious violation of the rights of refugees.
One other theme that gained prominence in the country reports is the issue of press freedom. Several country reports including reports from The Gambia, Liberia and Burkina Faso revealed that governments are cracking down hard on the press, by introducing new laws/legislations that are meant to silence the vibrant press. Journalists are continuously being attacked by State agents, tortured, detained and even killed. Media houses are being seized by governments and journalists jailed without trail. The press, the reports stated is really under siege in Africa.
Moreover, the reports mentioned that the private media/journalists are seen as “enemies of the state”. In a certain country, even with starvation being eminent, government is using food distribution as a political strategy. Political opponents and the members of the independent media run the risk of not receiving food rations run by the government. In short, African governments want “to clip the wings of the media and to cage the profession”.
Interestingly enough, the country reports further revealed that it is not only journalists who are persecuted in the continent. The situation of human rights defenders in the continent is also a course for concern. Human rights defenders are constantly being arrested, tortured and jailed. Some reports confirmed that due to the high handedness of certain African governments, most human rights defenders are now living in exile, while those who remain in their countries are being accused of destabilising their countries and being “unpatriotic”. State agents covered with impunity are going all out to perpetuate violence against human rights defenders and their families. This is indeed a course of great concern. Participants again called on the Commission to make an enquiry into the situation of human rights defenders in the continent.
Other themes indicated in the country reports included the rigging of elections by the ruling parties, as in Zimbabwe, corruption of government officials in high places, and state organised crimes resulting in the deaths and disappearances of political opponents.
Taking a cue from the country reports, one can say that the human rights situation in Africa is still very gloomy. However, some reports did mention that there have been some positive developments in the sense that national human rights institutions are being established in various African countries notably in Nigeria and Kenya. In addition to this fact is that despite the harassment by state agents some governments are beginning to see human rights NGOs as partners in development rather that enemies of the state. This is a healthy development, especially when one considers the fact that certain NGOs have been able to win legal cases against governments on behalf of individuals or groups. Thus, despite the gloomy nature of the human rights situation in the continent, the battle is now closer to victory more than ever before.
6. The Human Rights Dimensions of HIV/AIDS
The last session of the first day of the Forum witnessed the presentation of two papers on the topic, The Human Rights Dimensions of HIV/AIDS. These presentations were made by Mrs. Agnes Kuye, of the World Health Organisation (WHO) office in The Gambia (who made the presentation on behalf of the Resident Representative of WHO, Mr. James Mwanzia) and the Director of Community Law and Rural Development Centre, (an NGO based in South Africa) Mr. Bongani I. Khumalo.
In her presentation, Mrs. Kuye said that most of the people who are living with HIV/AIDS are among the vulnerable groups, the marginalised and the disadvantaged in society. According to figures obtained by the United Nations she said, “By the end of the year 2000, 36.1 million people are living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, 25.3 million of whom lived in Sub-Saharan Africa.” She further added that for every 10 men, there are 12 –13 women infected.
Mrs. Kuye emphasised that the disease has been seen by most people as a source of stigma, discrimination and intolerance. HIV/AIDS related stigma often leads to discrimination, which in turn leads to the intolerance of the people living with HIV/AIDS, of their families and associates. International Human rights instruments prohibit discrimination based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, poverty, birth or status.
The speaker went on further to outline the key intervention areas that the WHO is involved in, as concerns HIV/AIDS. She mentioned that advocacy against stigma and fear, and encouraging openness is a top priority intervention for the WHO. These notwithstanding there are other major intervention areas like the health education for prevention. Education for intervention requires information that cuts across from all levels of society. That is to say, from the so-called elite or literate level to the grassroots community level.
Mrs. Kuye however, cautioned that safe blood and blood products are very important given that it is one of the root causes of the disease. “ We all know how the virus is transmitted,” therefore governments should ensure that blood is safe, especially for transfusion purposes and precautions should be taken in health care settings, so that blood that is handled is safe and blood products are adequately disposed of. Prevention and care of sexually transmitted infection is another key intervention in which various UN agencies are involved in to help countries to make sure that the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases are fully addressed.
People living with HIV/AIDS need to be catered for in the context of human rights, so as to enable them to join in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Voluntary counselling and testing services she said should be made available, so that people can feel free to go and access these services in order to know their HIV/AIDS status. Mrs. Kuye stressed that this is a very important intervention in the prevention and control of the epidemic.
Mrs. Kuye also highlighted that in terms of the gender dimensions; both men and women must be responsible for mother-to- child transmission. This is why, this terminology has now been changed to “parent-to- child transmission”, showing that it is not only the mother who should be concerned, but the father/ husband should also take responsibility in protecting the unborn child from acquiring the virus.
Concerning the strengthening, counselling and support skills for health care workers, Mrs. Kuye said that health care workers are very important in the sense that they come across people who may be positive and that they learn to accept who ever that is infected with the disease. She emphasised that if we really want to encourage the people living with HIV/AIDS to come out, they must be aware that there is something for them on the other side. It must be borne in mind that these victims are an important force in the fight against the disease.
State governments she said must take on the leadership role in terms of the provision of treatment and prophylaxis of HIV/AIDS related illnesses especially sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and tuberculosis. Mainly, the deaths that occur among HIV/AIDS infected victims are as a result of them acquiring tuberculosis. The availability of suitable foods and micronutrients to restore and sustain adequate nutrition for HIV/AIDS victims should not be underestimated. The right to adequate food and nutrition is of importance especially in the light of those who are affected with tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.
Reflecting on the global response of HIV/AIDS, Mrs. Kuye said that recent conferences have been held to address the issue of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia. The Secretary General of the United Nations, she said, had made a special appeal for the Global AIDS Fund, which can be accessed by any country. The Abuja Summit on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the African Development Forum of 2000, had all focused on good leadership as a prerequisite to address the issue of the global pandemic.
She added that there is a need for appropriate legislations and regulations to eliminate all forms of discrimination and to ensure full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The human rights aspect should address the issue of inheritance, prevention support treatment information and legal protection. Ensuring respect for privacy and confidentiality is also an aspect to be considered, as most of our health centres do not provide respect for confidentiality.
She finally commended NGOs for the establishment of a continuum of care between the home, community and the institutions. NGOs she said are undertaking this activity in most of the communities where they have established home-based care to follow up on those families and individuals who are affected by the virus.
In a similar development, the Director of Community Law and Rural Development Centre, (an NGO based in South Africa) Mr. Bongani I. Khumalo, who also delivered a paper on the same topic, said that the issue of the rights, respect and dignity of HIV/AIDS infected people in our communities is a serious one, and it is met with differing attitudes and beliefs. These beliefs and approaches have sometimes divided communities, friends and families.
Mr. Khumalo stated that when one contracts malaria or is infected with a sexually transmitted disease, the community extend their sympathies and rush him/her to the hospital. “However, when you are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS the whole community will shut its doors, eyes and ears on you.” But, does suffering from HIV/AIDS make you a non-human? He called on participants not to forget that the majority of people who are affected were not aware that they were being exposed to the infection. Most of the people who are infected today were infected by their partners, parents, while some were infected through sloppy medical procedures. Some of these people he said were infected in the line of duty. Our major problem today is that many employees of agencies, who should be protecting the dignity of the affected people, are the same people who blatantly denigrate these victims.
The second speaker highlighted that the Human Rights Dimension of HIV/AIDS goes beyond the sufferer. Children and family members of the victims are often given names and they are then identified as those whose mother, father, sister or brother is HIV/AIDS positive. Mr. Khumalo stated further that in South Africa, one gets the feeling that HIV/AIDS infection is sometimes regarded as a disease, which affects black communities, the most. The irony of the situation is that most organisations, which work in the HIV/AIDS field, are headed by people other than blacks.
Mr. Khumalo questioned what right do our governments attach to people who suffer from HIV/AIDS? Very few governments, he said can boast that they have put the rights of infected (poor) people above those of the security of the state. He said that in most of our countries, spending on arms and ammunition is ten times if not more than that of health and social welfare. He went on to mention that one is always inundated with the rhetoric of our leaders claiming that HIV/AIDS is exacerbated by the poverty of the people. They in turn attribute poverty either to colonialists or apartheid.
He therefore called on NGOs to network and co-operate at the national, regional and continental level to:
Mr. Khumalo, reiterated that NGOs have a task of educating the masses on the importance of affording HIV/AIDS people their rightful dignity, whether they are able bodied or terminally ill. South Africa he said has an uphill battle to make ordinary people to understand the impact and seriousness of HIV/AIDS. He once again called on human rights activists not to despair but to continue to fight for the dignity of our sisters and brothers who are affected.
Questions Answers and Comments
At the end of the presentations, the participants at the Forum came up with very pertinent and vexed questions and comments in relation to the issue of patent rights and the victim’s rights to life. The participants argued that the issue of patent rights imposed by multi-national companies is a deliberate attempt by these companies to make these drugs out of the reach of the poor people, who are the ones that are mostly affected, as is the case in South Africa.
Participants further argued that competent local pharmaceutical companies wherever they exist, should be allowed to manufacture such drugs to ensure availability to the people. Some participants were also of the view that in the United States, there are available drugs, which though very expensive, are found to be very effective in the treatment of HIV/AIDS infection, thus allowing such people to live their normal lives within the virus.
This was buttressed by the second speaker, Mr. Khumalo, who said that there were some millionaires in South Africa, who tested positive but went to purchase drugs in America, after which they tested negative. Such drugs should therefore be made available to mankind. Thus the question, “How can we as Africans find our own way in developing medicines to save our own people?”
Gender activists at the Forum also raised concern on the large number of pregnant women who are tested for HIV/AIDS in numerous hospitals and clinics in Africa, without their consent. This they say is a fundamental violation of the rights of these pregnant women. The activists further asserted that in most instances, even when it is discovered that some of these women are HIV/AIDS positive nothing is done in relation to their situation. In other words they are being used as “human guinea pigs”. This was also linked to the situation in certain countries, were aspiring students were tested before given scholarships by powerful multinational companies. This, the participants say is very discriminatory.
However, other participants at the Forum argued that there is evidence in their respective countries, where women who tested positive while they are pregnant are given assistance by the clinics in order to help the unborn baby from acquiring the virus. This they cautioned is indeed a positive move in fighting the disease.
As the questions, answers and comments dominated the floor, the majority of the participants became more convinced that due to the rapid increasing rate of the epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa, there is a need for the Africa Commission to look into the necessity of creating a position for a special rapporteur for HIV/AIDS. Moreover, the participants also suggested that there is a need to establish a special committee within the AU that would specifically work on HIV/AIDS (linked to the rapporteur on AIDS). They therefore called on the Commission to take another look at the HIV/AIDS Resolution that was passed before it.
Pondering on the types of strategies to be adopted in order to fight the disease, it was unanimously agreed that as at now, there is no 100% working strategy, as the strategies differ from country to country, region to region and from continent to continent. However, networking with people in other countries and regions in order to learn from their experiences and successes was identified as one of the best strategies. The presenters advised that since the HIV/AIDS issue is a difficult issue to deal with in a holistic manner, taking into consideration poverty and health care, it is always important to come up with a situational analysis of the country in order to address these issues.
7. The African Union, NEPAD and Human Rights
The Second Day of the Forum started with a recap of the previous day’s proceedings. Mr Abdelbagi Jibril chaired the morning session, which was wholly centred on the African Union, (AU) The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and Human Rights. Two presentations were made during the morning session. The first presentation was made by the Chairperson of FEMNET, Mrs. Sara Longwe, and was centred on the Gender Dimensions of the AU and NEPAD, while the second presentation, was delivered by the Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme in The Gambia, Dr. John Kakonge, and it focused on the Examination of the Unique Features of NEPAD, the Challenges in the Implementation Plan of NEPAD and the Way Forward.
Renowned gender activist, Mrs. Sara Longwe, in her presentation dilated on the gender concerns in the AU and NEPAD. In delivering her paper, which she titled NEPAD’s Reluctance to Address Gender Issues, Mrs. Longwe said that in her experience she has never seen any programme that has been very democratic from the beginning. Women, she stressed always have to negotiate for various issues concerning them to be in- cooperated in such programmes.
Whilst commenting briefly on the AU and gender, Mrs. Longwe said that one of the greatest challenges of the AU, as concerns gender is to see how the AU will provide new opportunities and mechanisms for progress towards the economic and social rights of women in Africa. The AU, she said, like NEPAD had changed hands without much room for discussion by civil society. We as activists must therefore critically analyse the AU and NEPAD’s programmes from a gender point of view and try to raise concern about them.
Democracy and human rights principles are key to Africa’s development. However, our states have signed a lot of human rights agreements, international and regional, and yet they do nothing when it comes to implementing these international conventions. This Mrs. Longwe opined is one crucial area that the AU needs to review. She stressed the need for the AU to look at gender issues as an integral part of the developmental process for Africa. The role of the AU therefore should aim at coordinating all our national policies, so that they conform to the principles of democracy and human rights.
Concerning NEPAD, Mrs. Longwe stated that the first part of the NEPAD document raised the issue of good governance. However, she said, good governance must deal with the rule of law, democracy and human rights. Gender issues in good governance must reflect the equality of all citizens before the law and the availability of opportunities and resources open to all citizens. Patriarchal society in Africa has however created a wide gender gap in terms of education, access to health, access to wealth and power. Mrs. Longwe accused African governments of being the main perpetrators in creating this gap in NEPAD, due to their negation of the principles of good governance.
She went on to assert that NEPAD is indeed a failure, when viewed from a gender perspective. She reiterated that NEPAD is a “fade away”. “From a gender perspective, every strategic plan should have a situational analysis, which should mention all the gender issues and the data should be gender disaggregated.” She further highlighted that the situational analysis ought to show the situation on the ground. Disappointingly enough, when you look at the situational analysis in NEPAD, there is nothing on gender, the activist said. Moreover, Mrs. Longwe stated that NEPAD did not mention any strategic gender issue, which to her, means that they (African Leaders) are happy with the patriarchal nature of the African society. She wondered whether this is deliberate.
Concerning the strategies employed by NEPAD, Mrs. Longwe mentioned that the seven specialised committees which include, Transportation, Communication and Tourism, Rural Economy and Agriculture, Monetary and Finance Affairs, Trade, Customs and Immigration, Industry, Science and Technology have no indication of any concrete areas that is specifically related to gender issues. Likewise, the intervention strategies that NEPAD has chosen i.e. the management system, does not guarantee gender equality, especially when the policies are already gender blind. She thus affirmed that the policy analysis of gender imperative is not yet very realistic in Africa. Unless these analyses are written down and implemented, then everything is just “talkimism”. Civil society, she said, need to speak with one voice since gender equality is a developmental issue.
Unlike Sara Longwe, Dr. John Kakonge beamed the rays of his searchlight on the Examination of the Unique Features of the Partnership, the Challenges that will be faced in the Implementation of the activities of NEPAD and the Way Forward for NEPAD.
In giving an overview of the NEPAD initiative and its objectives, Dr. John Kakonge said that since 1980, Africa has had several initiatives some of which were enacted by the African leaders themselves and others within the framework of the Organisation of African Unity and the United Nations. These initiatives he said included the Lagos Plan of Action, the United Nations Programme for African Recovery and Development and the African Programme for Economic Recovery. However, the results of these programmes are mixed, as most of them had failed due to the reoccurrence of military coups in the continent, conflict and ethnic strife, mismanagement and poor governance, the impact of the Cold War on Africa and the brain drain.
Mr. Kakonge highlighted that NEPAD is “A pledge by African leaders based on a common vision and a firm and shared conviction, that they have a pressing duty to eradicate poverty and to place their countries, both individually and collectively on a path of sustainable growth and development and at the same time to participate actively in the world economy. The programme is anchored on the determination of Africans to extricate themselves and the continent from the malaise of underdevelopment and exclusion in a globalising world.”
He reiterated that the programme is a new framework of interaction with the rest of the world, facilitated by multilateral organisations. It is based on the agenda set by the African people through their own initiative and of their own volition, to shape their own destiny. He further stated that the new partnership seeks to build on the achievements of the past as well as to reflect on the lessons learned through painful experience, so as to establish a partnership that is both credible and capable of implementation.
Dr. Kakonge at this juncture said that the challenge therefore is for Africans to understand that development “is a process of empowerment and self-reliance.” Africans he said must not be the beneficiaries of the benevolent guardians; rather, they must be the architects of their own sustained upliftment. He continued by stating that the objectives of NEPAD can be summarised into two ideas, namely:
He warned however that in order to achieve the said objectives, African leaders will have to take joint responsibility to strengthen the mechanisms for conflict prevention, management and resolution at the regional and continental levels and to ensure that these mechanisms are used to restore and maintain peace. That notwithstanding, they must also promote and protect democracy and human rights by developing clear standards of accountability, transparency and participatory governance. In addition to this, African governments must revitalise and extend the provisions of education, technical training and health services, with high priority given to tackling HIV/AIDS, malaria and other communicable diseases. The promotion of the role of women in social and economic development by reinforcing their capacities in the domains of education, training, revenue generating activities, facilitating access to credit and assuring their participation in politics and economic life should also be a key area of concern for African governments.
Dr. Kakonge added that the opportunities offered by NEPAD lie in the features, which makes it unique and therefore destined to success where its predecessors have failed. These features include: private sector involvement, (NEPAD is the first development plan in Africa that has placed emphasis on the private sector) civil society involvement, partnership, funding possibilities and the commitment of the International Community.
In examining the challenges to be faced in the implementation of NEPAD, Dr. Kakonge mentioned that past experience in Africa had shown that development on the African continent faces many obstacles. Such challenges are not unique to NEPAD.
The challenges are:
The Way Forward for NEPAD
The UNDP Resident Representative in The Gambia indicated that many suggestions have been made on the way forward for NEPAD and he would like to highlight the following:
Dr. Kakonge concluded by stating that one thing remains clear- the development gap between the industrialised countries and Africa is maintained by bigger factors than governance and internal conflict. In this regard, what Africa really needs, is access to markets, “a level playing field for our products and goods and a trade partnership that is more that just a name.”
“We must grasp this opportunity” the NEPAD document said. “We cannot afford to fail”.
Questions Answers and Comments
After the presentations the Chairperson of the session invited comments and questions from the floor. The number of hands raised, was a clear indication that as far as NEPAD and the AU are concern there are still more questions than answers.
One intervention that held this question, answers and comments sessions to ransom was the lack of awareness on the side of the African populace on the issues of NEPAD. NEPAD, the participant highlighted, like other initiatives before it, is purely a programme for “the presidents”, who constructed everything without informing the masses. Moreover, it has also adopted a top- bottom approach, which has been the result of the failures of so many programmes in the continent. They questioned how NEPAD is going to raise US$64 billion yearly to finance its activities especially when only US$6 billion has been given to them by the G8. The participants further questioned whether the remaining sum of about US$58 billion is going to be raised through loans and aids and other investments from outside Africa, which when examined critically, is the same strategy that has impoverished the entire continent for the past four decades, as we are trapped in spending a large chunk of our national budgets on servicing loans.
One other key factor that was highlighted during the discussions on NEPAD was the issue of privatisation. Participants were of the view that with the strong emphasis that NEPAD is placing on Private sector investment, there is a tendency that privatisation will be the order of the day. It was mentioned that privatisation in Africa, has been linked fundamentally with imbalances in the society. This has been manifested in the inequality in the distribution of wealth, development and growth. Africa has for a long time attached itself piously to the financial dictates of IMF and the World Bank, to the extent that they had privatised everything up to the level of health and education. Hence the issue of privatisation, where ever it exists on the NEPAD programme, should be thoroughly scrutinised, as it had not yielded much benefits for the majority of the African masses.
Concerning the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), which had been adopted by NEPAD, participants at the Forum stated that it is still not clear what the Peer Review is all about. They suggested strongly that there should be a criteria and people should debate about it, in order to know what should be done about the review. Since it is evident that you cannot be the jury and at the same time the judge, participants said that NEPAD needs to come out with a document on how this Peer Review is to be done. They questioned whether an independent body is going to be put in place to evaluate our leadership.
The gender activists at the Forum also reiterated their concern on the issues of gender, as relates to the NEPAD document. They stated that the issue of gender is only mentioned in two sections of the document. They further emphasised that even in the section dealing with agriculture, which is the backbone of the African economy, there is no mention of women. They thus questioned “How can we have an initiative that is claiming to improve our future without mentioning more than half of the population of the African continent.”
Participants further stressed that the fear that most Africans have in mind, is the failure of our national governments in our individual countries to implement programmes that would alleviate poverty and improve the status of the citizens in Africa. However, there was a general consensus that NEPAD may not be a bad programme after all, but there is a need to internalised it and should be integrated into our national planning process for it to be meaningful. Lastly, the participants also stressed that NEPAD should be a programme within the AU and hence should be housed under the same secretariat rather than having two separate secretariats.
The debate on NEPAD, the participants emphasised, must continue in every sector of the African civil society, in order for the African masses to make informed decisions.
During the Afternoon Session, the Executive Director of the ACDHRS, Mrs. Hannah Foster welcomed the Chairman of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Dr. Kamal Razag Bara who joined the NGO Forum. In his brief statement, Dr. Razag Bara thanked the ACDHRS for once again organising the NGO Forum. He expressed his delight in being with the human rights NGOs, whose work he said is very crucial for the African Commission. Dr. Razag Bara also congratulated the African Centre on the appointment of one of their Board Members, Mrs. Pramilla Patten as a member of the UN Committee on CEDAW. He added that he is looking forward to see the participants of the Forum at the 32nd Ordinary Session of the African Commission in the next few days.
After the introduction of Dr. Razag Bara, the participants of the Forum were divided into eight special interest groups to discuss and to interchange ideas and to come up with concrete recommendations concerning their Special Interest Group.
The third and final day of the Forum began with a summary report of the previous day’s proceeding. The morning session was chaired by the Executive Director of the ACDHRS, Mrs. Hannah Forster, who briefed the participants about the agenda for the day. She later invited the Head of the Drafting Committee, Mr. Mabassa Fall, to brief the participants about the modalities that the Drafting Committee wants to put in place concerning the submission and presentation of the Resolutions to the Draft Committee.
This generated a heated debate, as to what should fall under the country specific issues and the thematic issues. Five countries were identified for the Country Specific Issues. These include, Eritrea, Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. After very constructive criticisms and some necessary adjustments, the participants of the Forum accepted the modalities tabled before them by the Drafting Committee, thus giving the Drafting Committee the green light to proceed with their work.
8. Slavery and Child Trafficking in Africa.
The first presentation of the Morning Session dealt with Slavery and Child Trafficking in Africa, and was chaired by the representative of the Community Law and Rural Development Centre, Ms. Samantha Khan, who introduced the presenter, Mr. Cleophas Mally of WAO Afrique/Anti Slavery International.
Mr. Cleophas Mally, gave a very emotional lecture on the situation of slavery and child trafficking in Africa. In delivering his paper, Mr. Mally lamented that it is difficult to imagine that in this modern day, slavery still exists in Africa. “Until 1991, slavery and forced labour practices were in full operation in Mauritania.” The government had tried to pass legislation, in order to ban the practice. However, this had not made any difference, as the practice continued to affect men, women and children.
Mr. Mally further stated that the practice of slavery also exists in other African countries like Sudan and Niger. He said that in Sudan, children are forced into bonded labour. A debtor- family would normally send a family member to a creditor-family to labour for whatever the family had owed, sometimes without the knowledge of the child or the person sent. An American study had confirmed this phenomenon. It is also stated that forced marriages in Sudan and Mauritania constitutes slavery. A case in point was the story of a woman who has walked over 100 kilometres to gain her freedom, but who unfortunately went to the police and was detained for almost thirty days, because she carried a sign on her body which shows that she belongs to a particular “master”.
Concerning the issue of child trafficking, Mr. Mally explained that a few years ago, no African country wanted to accept that child trafficking is taking place within their boarders. However, today, there is ample evidence that the trafficking of women and children in and out of the continent is indeed a reality. Mr. Mally went on to explain that three categories of countries are involved in the trafficking of women and children. The first category is the “ Providers”. That is those countries like Togo, Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Niger who transport large numbers of children to different destinations in Africa and beyond.
The second category includes the countries where these children are exploited and forced to work under very inhuman conditions. Such countries include Ivory Coast, Gabon, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. Thirdly is the “Transit” countries, where these children are hosted temporarily, before being transported to their final destinations. These countries include Ghana, The Gambia, and Senegal.
Mr. Mally further revealed that in transit, boys and girls as young as six years old are placed in hiding place that are very appalling without enough food, water and medical care. As a result many of these children die in transit. As soon as they reach their destinations these children are used as a source for cheap labour and are sent to work as domestic servants in households or to work in plantations or even used as prostitutes. At this juncture, Mr. Mally expressed concern for the fate of over 15,000 children trafficked from Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin and Senegal who were working in plantations in Bouake and its surroundings, which is now under the control of the mutinous rebellious factions of the Ivorian army and the more than 250, 000 children in Gabon, who are at the verge of being repatriated to their countries of origin.
Mr. Mally stated that their research had revealed that child trafficking in the continent is undertaken for various reasons, including forced and cheap labour, domestic labour, drug trafficking, prostitution and forced conscription into rebellious factions.
There is enough evidence that children have been taken away and sacrificed for ritual purposes, dismembering their genitals. On the other hand, a large number of children had been captured and kidnapped in countries like Uganda and Sierra Leone and forced against their will to become “child soldiers”. Reports of various international organisations like UNICEF had indicated that horrible atrocities were committed on these children as they were constantly drugged and forced to commit atrocities even against other children and their families. Likewise, the Italian Government Report has revealed that a large number of children mostly from Nigeria have been smuggled in the country for prostitution.
But who are the perpetrators of these heinous crimes against the children of Africa? Mr. Mally said that most of the studies conducted in the West African sub-region have not yet come up with any definite answer, as to who are the real perpetrators. However, it cannot be ruled out that there are networks including rich plantation owners and parents who are associated with this inhuman act. Parents who give their children to richer relatives for education have found out to their dismay that some of these children are taken out of their country of residence and trafficked to other countries. This is typically evident of the “talibe” syndrome in Senegal.
The presenter added that poverty has been identified as the main cause for parents giving away their children to richer relatives or friends to cater for them. The rates of dropouts, has also been identified as another major cause, which is as a result of the expensive educational system. Coupled with this factor is the continuous demand for cheap labour, and child labour has been identified as the cheapest form of labour.
Finally, Mr. Mally appealed to African governments to accept the fact that these atrocities do exists within the confines and boarders of their countries. He called on all human rights NGO to work tirelessly to ensure that this horrible menace is stopped in the continent.
Questions, Answers and Comments
Despite the explicit lecture given by Mr. Cleophas Mally, the questions, answers and comments session that followed the presentation was equally interesting. The participants from Mauritania highlighted that the issues stated in the report concerning Mauritania are indeed very true. One such participant by the name of Sheikh Sey, buttressed this fact of slavery in Mauritania stating that he himself had been subjected to the practice together with his whole family. He reassured the participants at the Forum that this practice is still going on in Mauritania, despite the government’s so many denials.
Mr. Sey further added that the most negative issue about the practice of slavery in Mauritania is that there is a complete breakdown of the family structure. “The husband and wife are separated and the children are taken away from them” Mr. Sey went on to reveal that they are forced to work in houses for very long hours without any compensation or pay for their labour. Added to this inhuman treatment is the issue of inheritance. When a “slave” dies, no body inherits anything, because all that the slave owns belongs to his “master”. He also gave the example of two brothers who tried to escape to Senegal but were captured and handed over to the police, who handed them to the “master” upon his request. He finally completed his testimony by assuring the participants at the Forum that they have ample evidence to prove all this.
Marvelled by these revelations, some participants at the Forum argued that the African Commission need to take a stand on the issue of slavery and child trafficking and to come up with mechanisms to stop this inhuman act. On the other hand, immigration officers should be sensitised on the issue of these children who are being trafficked. It is stated that most of the time immigration officers see these victims as villains and they further add to their pain and misery by detaining them in horrible conditions.
As the discussions continued, one question remained to be answered; How to rehabilitate these children, (especially those who have been exploited sexually) back into the society to be productive citizens. It was stated that in Nigeria, certain NGOs together with the Immigration Department have started rehabilitating these returnees, especially young girls returning from Europe, who had been forced into prostitution. They are providing shelter for them and at the same time offering counselling, as most of these girls are afraid to return to their homes due to the trauma and stigma that they might face at home. In the same vein, NGOs in West Africa have also started establishing shelters for children who have been repatriated.
Considering the inhuman and degrading acts that are associated with the issue of slavery and child trafficking, the participants at the Forum recommended that:
9. The Special Rapporteur’s Report on the Situation of Women in Africa
After the presentation on Slavery and Child Trafficking, the arrival of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women, Dr. Angela Melo, was announced. Dr Angela Melo was then given the opportunity to report on the Situation of Women in the continent.
In her brief report, Dr. Melo stated that conflicts situations and the lack of political will have exacerbated problems of violation of women’s rights in the continent. Coupled with this problem is the issue of inheritance rights, which is still predominantly patriarchal.
Dr. Melo further highlighted that the problem of access to education, adequate health care, unequal access to jobs or funding and discriminatory practices are still causing hindrances to female empowerment. Thus, administrative and legislative measures must be implemented alongside sensitisation campaigns, in order to fully empower women.
Despite these challenging problems, some affirmative actions have been taken in a number of countries, to ameliorate the situation of women in the continent. According to Dr. Melo, a UNESCO report has revealed that more women are in positions of authority now than ever before. Dr. Melo said that in 1994, 80% of women were elected in Namibia, while Mozambique have been able to put in place a system that advocates for equal opportunities for men and women. Djibouti as well as Angola, have adopted strategic action plans to be in cooperated in their domestic legislations.
It could be recalled that during the Conference in Durban, South Africa, it was adopted that women should be in-cooperated into the activities of the African Union (AU). Recent declarations of the AU emphasised the importance of women in the decision making process as well as the implementation of women’s rights and monitoring mechanisms in all AU member states.
The Special Rapporteur stated that she had been invited by UNESCO to come up with a strategic plan on changing the mindset of leaders and civil society as a whole. She stressed and encouraged NGOs of the need to come together as a network to lobby governments.
10. Statement by the Chairman of the ACHPR at the NGO Forum
The Chairman of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Dr. Kamel Razag Bara, in his statement to the participants of the NGO Forum, said that the participation of NGOs is very positive in the work of the Commission. He hailed the work that is being done by the various human rights NGOs and the African Centre in particular as very important to the work of the Commission. The Commission he said cannot achieve its objectives without the work of NGOs.
Dr. Razag Bara further stated that the country reports that are delivered by the participants during the Sessions of the Commissions, are very important in the sense that it helps them to evaluate the human rights situations in the various states. He added that so far, twenty state parties have presented their state reports to the Commission – most recently, Togo and Mauritania submitted their reports. This is an indication that more reports are coming in now. Dr. Razag Bara emphasised that each and every one of the participants have a very important role to play, in lobbying states to send their reports and to sign and ratify conventions.
Concerning the African Union, Dr. Razag Bara said that all the sixteen “organs” of the AU are yet to be put in place. “ With regards to the Commission, we have been mandated to review the role the African Commission will play in the AU and to synchronize Charter to this new document”. Decisions, he said, have already been taken, and it is the desire of the Commission that the present African Charter be modified.
In relation to NEPAD, Dr. Razag Bara observed the existence of a number of good initiatives in the NEPAD document. These include, the principles of good governance, democracy, human rights and transparency. Dr. Razag Bara further went on to say that even though it is evident that we cannot have democratic governments without human rights, in the NEPAD document, there is this marvellous idea of the establishment of an African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM). This he said is only meaningful if it is done by Africans themselves. The APRM, he said, will strengthen the credibility of the Africans and will also demonstrate the will of Africans in this initiative.
11. Closing Ceremony
The Closing ceremony of the NGO Forum was chaired by the Executive Director of the ACDHRS, Mrs. Hannah Forster. In her closing remarks, Mrs. Forster emphasised that the gathering of the various NGOs present during the course of the Forum, has yet again shown the commitment and importance that the human rights NGOs attached to the Forum.
She said that the significance of the individual and collective contributions of the participants to the work of the Commission had over the years contributed in no small measure to improve certain degrading abuses in the continent. She added that the stimulating discouragements of states and the threat of state parties had only strengthened the resolve of the human rights defenders in the continent, in ensuring that the task before them is done, and done very well.
Mrs. Forster extended her appreciation to the African Commission for working with the Centre and the various human rights NGOs present at the Forum, especially in creating a conducive atmosphere for NGOs to participate in the Public Sessions of the Commission. She added that this healthy development must be continued for it is only through commitment and effective networking that our objectives can be realised.
The ACDHRS she said will continue to foster a solid relationship with and between human rights NGOs and the African Commission and all other institutions working for the rights of men and women. “The work of NGOs in improving the status of mankind, cannot be in vain”. She went on to thank everyone present for making the Forum a success. She thanked the facilitators of the Working Groups for sharing their experience and knowledge with the participants. Mrs. Forster also thanked the interpreters for their daunting task which they have completed professionally. She also extended her gratitude to the Hotel management for their hospitality.
She finally urged all human rights defenders to continue the good work that they are doing and to keep on networking.
The Chairman of the ACDHRS, Mr. Mohamad Genedy, thanked the participants for their important contributions during the Forum. He emphasised that the Forum has been very interesting, especially when we have some live testimonies about some pertinent issues in the continent. Mr. Genedy stated that the most important thing to do now is to look forward to the task ahead. Our job, he said, is a continuous process.
He thanked the Executive Director of the ACDHRS, Mrs. Hannah Forster, whom he said has been the brain behind the organisation of this Forum.
On his part, the Chairman of the African Commission, Dr. Kamal Razag Bara, once again thanked the human rights NGOs who have been able to make it to the Forum. He said that the impressive number of NGOs participating in the Forum are not only from Africa, but even from beyond the continent. He further stated that during the Forum there have been some very interesting discussions on very sensitive matters and in the same spirit, he is inviting the participants of the Forum to bring along this lively discussions to the Public Sessions of the Commission during the next few days.
Dr. Razag Bara mentioned certain vital issues, which he said are very important for Africa and will be central to the topics that will be discussed during the Public Sessions. These he said are, peace and security, democracy, free and fair elections, the rule of law, transparency and development. He told the participants at the Forum that they have a lot of work to do, since in all the issues mentioned, human rights have a very crucial role to play.
Dr. Razag Bara finally seized the opportunity to invite the participants of the Forum to the 32nd Ordinary Session of the African Commission.
In delivering the Closing Address, the Honorary Consul of the Royal Kingdom of the Netherlands, Mr. Wilmot John, said that human rights, good governance and the rule of law are pivotal to the thriving of democracy and the upliftment of human dignity in every society. Africa, he said, has not at any time in history needed the introduction and strengthening of democratic institutions like it does in these times.
Mr. John further buttressed the fact that the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights means a great deal today in Africa. He stated that the Commission, being the only African Human rights mechanism, needs the support of civil society to ensure that African States and Governments put in place the necessary democratic structures to ensure the promotion of human rights, the rule of law and good governance on the continent.
He commended the ACDHRS, in bringing together human rights NGOs and persons concerned with the human rights situation in Africa, to discuss matters of great urgency affecting the continent and to speak with one voice to the African Commission. He finally thanked the eminent resource persons and participant, whom, he said, have worked tirelessly for the past three days, in order to come up with resolutions and suggestions for the African Commission to consider and act upon.