By Saikou Suwareh Jabai

On Monday 17th October, 2016, the Forum on the Participation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the 59th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and the 33rd African Human Rights Book Fair kicked-off at Paradise Suites Hotel in Gambia.

The 3 day-long crucial convergence which will wrap-up on Wednesday, brought together prominent human rights advocates and organizations from across the African continent.

Delivering the opening statement on behalf of the Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Commissioner Jamesina Essie L. King, said since its establishment, the Origination of African Unity (OAU) was preoccupied with human rights as evidenced by the struggle for the decolonisation of Africa and the right to self-determination. Those agitating and fighting for independence, she said, used human rights standards to justify their struggle, as colonialism had no regard for human rights of the colonised people.

She said African culture has been criticised for not respecting the rights of women, mostly because of the harmful practices that negate gender equality, adding that many campaigns have been launched against these practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM), forced child marriages, gender-based violence, neglecting to educate girls, discrimination of women and girls during inheritance, inequality in marriage and divorce and maternal deaths due to lack of access to adequate and affordable health facilities, among others.

The commissioner said African leaders have committed themselves to respect human rights by ratifying international and continental human rights instruments, and enacting laws and policies aimed at protecting the rights of its people. She however added that legal and policy commitments always need to be accompanied by concrete measures to combat societal discrimination, to address gender inequalities and women’s unequal access to education, health and other social services.

She said NGOs play a critical role of educating, promoting, challenging and defending in the name of citizens or public interest. Without such engagements, she added, governments would lack accountability and democracy at best would be fragile.

Commissioner Jamesina Essie L. King finally recognised the important roles that NGOs play in cooperating with AU Organs with Human Rights mandates and thanked them for their continued collaboration and support.

The Chairperson of CSOs Forum, Mr. Sidikou Moussa, said Africa has witnessed a number of violence and crimes over the past years and that women and children are affected mostly in such circumstances. He said their rights are being grossly violated by those who should protect them. While highlighting the significance of the forum, he urged the participants to deliver strong resolutions for further actions.

Mrs. Clement Voule, a member of Steering Committee of NGOs Forum, and Mr. Mabassa Fall expressed similar remarks. They cited the significance of NGO participation in defending and promoting human rights and called for concerted efforts in the struggle.