56th Ordinary Session of the African Commission Opens in Banjul

By KebbaJeffang

The 56th annual ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) has opened on Tuesday, 21st April, 2015 in Banjul.

The session brings together Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOS) in Africa and elsewhere and other stakeholders to discuss human rights promotion and protection across Africa.

The lengthy ceremony that followed the recent conclusion of the NGO Forum was presided over by the Gambia Justice Minister, Mama Fatima Singhateh. Also in attendance were other ministers of the government, the Chief Justice of the Gambia, African Union senior staff, UN representatives and other human rights defenders.

HonourableKayitesiZainabo Sylvie, the Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) indicated that that the session should have taken place in the last quarter of 2014 but did not due to circumstances beyond the control of the Commission.

She pointed out that 2014 has been a challenging year for human rights promotion and protection in the view of many human rights issues confronting the continent. She noted that despite efforts marshalled from within the African Union (AU), regional bodies and international community, conflicts and reprisals continue to persist in many parts of Africa including the Central African Republic, Somalia, and South Sudan while Nigeria and Kenya continue to battle with terrorism within their borders. She said Egypt and Libya have also been plagued with persistent political and economic instability since 2011, adding that in these entire situations, it is the population which bears the brunt of the impact.

Hon. Sylvie added that “the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials in some states parties is not only unjustifiable but also a violation of human rights including the non-derogative right to life. In all circumstances, not only during peaceful demonstrations but also in the course of routine police work, proper protection must therefore be extended by law enforcement officials to members of the public. In this regards, the Commission would like to reiterate its resolution adopted in the previous Sessions on the right to peaceful demonstration, and continues to call on States to observe their regional and international commitments. Also very concerning to the work of the Commission is the emerging phenomenon of targeted attacks against persons with Albinism, particularly within Great Lakes region. To that end the Commission also reiterated its resolution on the prevention of attacks and discrimination against persons with Albinism,” said African Commission Chairperson.

On the protection of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs), Madam Sylvie said HRDs are playing a critical role in the promotion and protection of human rights, especially at national and state level. She said the Commission is therefore committed to ensuring that they are both safe and protected in their countries. She said it is unfortunate that these are people who are continuing to be harassed by the states and their communities.

On the death penalty, she intimated that “the abolition of the death penalty at least in practice appears to be a trend that is spreading around the globe. The Commission has taken a clear position against death penalty and it is working together with all stakeholders to ensure Africa is death penalty free,” said Madam Sylvie.

Dr. KhabeleMatlosa, Director of Political Affairs at African Union Commission said the session is timely for the fact that it coincided with the commemoration of the 21st anniversary of the Rwandan genocide which took place on the 7th April, 2015 under the theme “let’s keep the Memory alive.”

He said the African continent has witnessed decades of numerous human rights challenges resulting from a diverse range of factors, which include, among others, war, poverty, corruption, autocratic governance etc. He said it is against this background that AU member states of the then Organization of African Unity (OAU) solemnly resolved to promote and safeguard freedom, justice, equality and human dignity in Africa by putting in place instruments to enforce these values.

“It is worth noting that the department of political affairs, working together with relevant organs of the AU with human rights mandate, including the African Commission on Human and People Rights, has developed the African Union Transition Justice Policy Framework. The framework will hopefully be adopted during the AU Summit in January, 2016. We welcomed Resolution 235 of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on Transition Justice that was passed at the 53rd Ordinary Session, which calls for a study on how to facilitate the implementation process of the AU Policy Framework on Transition Justice after its endorsement by the Assembly of the Union,” Dr. Matlosa indicated.

He said it could be recalled that 2016 is a verified watershed in the continental human rights trajectory. He said 2016 marks the 35th anniversary of the adoption of the African Charter in 1986 adding that the 29th anniversary of operationalization of the Commission. He said the same 2016 marks the 10th year anniversary of the operationalization of the African Court. He said the Maputo Protocol will have 13 years in 2015. He noted that 2016 is declared as African Year of Human Rights with Special Focus on the Rights of Women.

Mr. Andre Ori, representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) based in Dakar, Senegal said many lives have been lost as a result of scourge of Ebola virus, the cruelty and moral failure of violent extremists and the horrors they perpetrate daily, natural disasters and lives have also been lost too as people sought to flee their countries in search of a better life.

“Despite all these, we are still meeting to promote and protect the human rights of all. We are gathering here and we will do it a thousand more times to remind us that human rights are inherent to all of us as human beings, women and men equally, without distinction of our nationality, place of residence, gender, sexual orientation, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion or language. We are all entitled to our human rights without discrimination,” UNHCHR representative indicated.

Mr. Ori emphasized that human rights must not be considered a favour, or luxury. He said every person is born with his or her rights, civil and political rights such as right to life, equality before the law, freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, economic, social and cultural rights such as right to work, with equal pay, social security, health care and education, or collective rights such as right to development and self-determination. He said these are inherent and integral part of the human being.

“We also need to recall that the state has the obligation to respect, protect and fulfill realization of these rights, without discrimination. Failure by the state to meet its obligation may trigger violence and destruction, and the loss of life as well as deprivation of freedom and underdevelopment,” he concluded.

Honourable Judge Augustino S. L. Ramadhani the Presdent of the African Court said it is a responsibility of the court and the Commission to work together in cementing the protection and promotion of rights on the continent. He said the African Court provides expert advice on legal issues to any country or institution provided that the issue at hand is not a pending case at the Commission.

He calls for ratification of the declaration to allow individuals and institutions to access the court directly.

Hon. Mama Fatima Singhateh, Gambia’s Attorney General and Minister for Justice presiding over the opening session, said given the Ebola virus that affected some West African countries recently, the session was long anticipated. She said the African Commission has been making tireless efforts in promoting human rights to ensure that all state carryout their obligations in as in line with the African Charter.

She indicated that The Gambia has been ensuring that human rights agenda is promoted. She cited the success areas of the Gambia human rights issues pointing out health, education, agriculture etc. She added that Gambia has also adopted numerous human rights conventions and instruments adding that the country also has achieved greater parts of the MDGs.

Hon. Singhateh disclosed that the Gambia will soon have the National Human Rights Institutions in place, which she said will help in better promoting human rights agenda in the country. She further stated that Gambia’s stance towards the fight against terrorists and terrorism is clear. She also took note of the achievements registered by other countries in Africa in relation to human rights.

Dr. KhabeleMattosa, the Director of political affairs at the African Union Commission started by strongly condemning the xenophobic attack in South Africa. He said it is an attack against human rights and humans in general. He said the attack has seriously undermined the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights as well as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

He said there are lots of human rights violations