By Yankuba Jallow
The 59th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), which started on 21st October 2016, ended on Friday, 4 November 2016 at the Kairaba Beach Hotel.
The theme for this year’s session is ‘Women’s Rights – Our Collective Responsibility’.
A total of 581 delegates participated in the event, which included 129 representing 26 member states, 31 representing the African Union (AU) and its organs, 39 representing National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), 13 representing international and inter-governmental organizations, 298 representing non governmental organizations (NGOs) and 45 representing other observers and the media.
Advocate Pansy Tlakula, the Chairperson of ACHPR, in her opening statement, gave the background of the historic nature of 59th Ordinary Session.
Madam Tlakula said the African Charter has made some achievements such as the establishment of the African Commission almost thirty years ago, the establishment of other organs and institutions with human rights mandate, such as African Court and others. She also noted that the AU has adopted a number of human rights instruments to enhance the enjoyment of human rights and Agenda 2063, which is a Pan African vision.
She further cited the number of declarations, principles, guidelines and general comments adopted by the Commission to elaborate the meaning and scope of the rights provided for in the African Charter as well as the significant progress made in the promotion and protection of human rights on the continent, particularly civil and political rights.
She urged the government of The Gambia to release the opposition party members held in custody.
Reading out the final communiqué, Mr. Solomon Ayele Dersso, said the members of the commission who participated in the sessions were commissioners Pansy Tlakula, Soyata Maiga, Reine Alapini-Gansou, Yeung Kam John Yeung Sik Yuen, Kayitesi Zainabo SylVie, Lucy Asuagbor, Med S.K. Kaggwa, Maya Sahli-Fadel, Lawrence Murugu Mute, Jamesina Essie L. King and Solomon Ayele Dersso.
He said the joint session was opened by the Gambia’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Mama Fatima Singhateh, who represented the vice president and minister of women affairs. He cited Mrs. Singhateh who said in her statement that ‘’Women across the African continent have come a long way since the inception of the Banjul Charter and that there have been many obstacles along the way but some have resulted in numerous milestones celebrated.’’
He said Madam Singhateh also noted that many women in Africa continue to be victims of human rights violations such as Domestic Violence, Customary Traditions and many of which fail to acknowledge the Rights of women, especially in relation to Inheritance by women, Sexual Violence and Abuse, Equal Access to Education and Equal Sexual and Reproductive Rights.
The minister of justice, he said, noted the progress made by the Republic of The Gambia in the promotion and the protection of the rights of women, including the Women’s Act of 2010, Domestic Violence Act 2013, Sexual Offences Act of 2013, Amended the Women’s Act 2015, Prohibiting Female Genital Mutilation and the Amended Children’s Act in 2016, abolishing child marriage.
For her part, Mrs. Hannah Forster, Executive Director of the African Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS), speaking on behalf of the NGOs Steering Committee, said the NGO forum considered specific human rights issues relating to the human rights situation in Africa and the rights of Women in Africa. She noted some positive developments, including the criminalisation of torture, the banning of FGM, the campaign against early and forced marriage and the campaign on the decriminalization of abortion in Africa.
She also highlighted the existing challenges and recommended to the Commission to urge State Parties to ratify, domesticate and implement the protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa and to ensure that women have access to information and services, with necessary resources which will enable them to contribute more effectively.
The vice chairperson of the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI), noted the many strides which the African continent under the leadership of the African Union and its organs have made towards the realization of Human Rights for all Africans, including the adoption of many human rights instruments which, in many ways, are unique and speak to the realities of Africans.
She also urged state parties to put in place structures to work with different actors for the realization of Human Rights and in particular with National Human Rights Institutes (NHRIs) within conducive environment as well as provide them with adequate support.
She further noted the commitments of the A.U. and its organs to prioritize the mainstreaming of the participation of women and youth in all actions of the union in the continent and urged all parties to contribute to the realization of women’s rights as provided in the ACHPR protocol on the rights of women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) and other similar instruments.
She also highlighted the many challenges that hinder the realization of Human Rights in the continent, particularly the issue of democratic governance, and called on the AU to utilize its powers to secure member states’ commitment to democracy, the rule of law and constitutional government.
Honorable Susan Shabangu, Minister of Women in the Presidency of the Republic of South Africa, representing the AU member states, said the declaration of 2016 as the ‘Year of Human Rights with particular focus on the Rights of women’, though necessary, is not sufficient to ensure gender equality and women’s empowerment.
She said the conventions, declarations, protocols and policies adopted by heads of state must be implemented and periodically assessed to evaluate their impact on women.
The Chairperson of AU Advisory Board on Corruption, Honourable Daniel Batidam, in his remarks, pointed out that women constitute more than half of Africa’s population and yet they are relegated to the background and remain a minority in public policy, the private and the public work-force and decision making levels across the continent.
Mr. Joseph Ndayisenga, the second vice chairperson of the African Committee of Experts on The Rights and Welfare of the Child, told the gathering that the prepared Agenda 2040 cannot be attained when the member states do not ratify the African Charter on the Welfare of The Child and urged all member states to accelerate the process in order to provide guaranteed protection to the children living in their territories.
Professor Daniel Makiesse Mwana Wa Nzambi, acting Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC) on International Law, described the 59th session of ACHPR as an exceptional opportunity to underscore three main issues, namely; the situation of humanity prior to the collective commitment in favour of women’s rights, the global watershed with the recognition of women’s rights and the momentum of community promotion of women’s rights in the context of human development.
He said without the inclusion of women in the implementation of activities particularly with regards to development goals and the Agenda 2063, it will be difficult to achieve the desired results.
He concluded by stressing that the world’s development can only be achieved through the promotion of women and their involvement in the implementation process.
Honourable Justice Sylvain Ore, President of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Right called for self introspection rather than a passionate celebration.
During this year’s session, the commission organized and facilitated the following events; A Human Right Dialogue and An International Dialogue on Human Rights issues affecting the Youth. There were 25 states who all made remarks on the issues of Human Rights in their respective countries as well as 35 NGOs, having Observer status with the Commission, made statements on the human rights situation in Africa.
Madam Saffie Sankareh, the Gambia’s Solicitor General, speaking on behalf of the Attorney General and the Minister of Justice, in the closing remarks, revealed that the Commission has decided to hold its 60th Ordinary Session in Niamey, Republic of Niger, from 8th to 22th May 2017.
The Commission expressed its profound gratitude to the Government of The Republic of The Gambia for accepting to host the session and for providing the Commission with the necessary facilities which greatly contributed to the smooth conduct and success of the session.