African countries have been asked to deepen their culture of human rights and mutually encourage one another to respond progressively and decisively to the right to development. This call was made Wednesday by the African Union’s Commissioner for Political Affairs, Mrs Julia Dolly Joiner at the opening of the 48th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, held at the Sheraton Hotel in Brufut.
According to Mrs. Joiner, the work of the African Commission should now balance its work between law and advocacy, noting that while there have been success stories in a number of African countries, some countries still often regress into repressive human rights abuses. “Just as we approach a point of reflection and celebration on the journey traveled, we also stand at a time when there is a need to reaffirm that human rights is an endeavour which requires actions that combine the caring hand of law with the passion of advocacy.”
According to her, the ACHPR has since its inception three decades ago stood at the centre of collective efforts to advocate on behalf of those without voice and secure human and peoples’ rights across Africa, noting that it is not possible to ‘stem all abuses’.
Her words: “There are still challenges to be confronted and hearts that need to be opened. There are still fellow Africans, perhaps neighbours, friends and even loved ones who act with impunity and hold on to attitudes that serve to deny individuals and communities the rights that many take for granted.”
She said that it has become imperative to recognize that there are still many on the continent who continue to struggle for the most basic rights, and hence the imperative of a balanced approach, so that the ordinary people may not lose faith and the collective could move forward in their aspirations.
“Whilst we push for the deepening of the rights culture and engage on matters of detail within particular areas of concern, we must know that it would not be encouraging if, in one part of the Continent or even in a particular Member State, we have the most advanced human rights practices and yet in another part we have people who continue to struggle with the most basic of issues. These rights and duties still need our focused attention today covering, as they do, issues such as access to public services, employment and other aspects of the right to development,” Mrs. Joiner said.
She also noted that matters such as gender discrimination also continue to remain a concern and that systematic prejudices make the African Charter an empty promise for many.
“The issue of pursuing basic human rights for all, as vigorously as we respond to a new order of rights, is not simple, as it extends to matters of choice on how resources are used and priorities established. I have and will always urge that, even whilst the African Commission responds to new complex demands and challenges, it seeks ways to ensure that it delivers on all elements of its core mandate,” she said, as she called upon the African Commission to focus attention on ensuring compliance with Article 62 of the Charter, which requires that State Parties submit a ‘report on the legislative or other measures taken, with a view to giving effect to the rights and freedoms recognised and guaranteed by the present Charter’.
She said that whilst the obligation to submit reports rests with Member States, the African Commission is well placed to explore ways of securing more active participation and commitment to the submission of periodic reports. “The participation of Member States cannot be over-emphasised and I would hence urge that the African Commission explore this matter further and that some innovations, as may be appropriate, be introduced on the matter of securing compliance with periodic reporting,” she said.
She noted that it is always useful to build on past commitments and ensure that the proposals made are realistic and accommodative of the realities that characterize policy processes within the African Union.
“If there is a message that characterises the current phase in the human rights and shared values journey in our continent, it would be one of non-indifference and shared responsibility. The very idea of non-indifference is what distinguishes the African Union from the Organisation of African Unity and symbolises the spirit that permeates the substantive orientation of the African Charter and other important instruments, such as the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.
“In like manner, all of these instruments also drive forward the proposition that shared values are a collective responsibility. Over and beyond the sharing of responsibility between different organs and structures of the Union, there is an expectation that all shared values initiatives would rest on active partnerships between governments and all other stakeholders,” she said.
Speaking further, the AU’s commissioner for Political Affairs noted that the African Union has approved that the African Union Commission initiate a process directed at establishing a more focused African Governance Architecture, and that they have initiated a broad consultative process which would be established as the premier coordinating mechanism within the Architecture.
This process, she added is aimed at enhancing coordination and complementarities amongst African Union organs, regional economic communities and other stakeholders in governance and human rights.
“The eventual launch of the African Governance Platform, pending guidance and approval of the African Union Assembly, has particular significance to the African Human Rights Community, as the Platform has been defined as the key implementation vehicle for the unfolding consolidated African Human Rights Strategy.”
She expressed the African Union Commission’s appreciation for the human rights commission’s active role and anticipated that the collective work engaged upon would lead to greater coherence in efforts directed at enhancing human rights in Africa.
Also speaking at the forum, Mr. Med S.K. Kaggwa, chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission and member of the steering committee of the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions noted that the African Commission’s sessions usually provide National Human Rights institutions an opportunity to exchange information on various human rights challenges and a platform to debate on pertinent human rights issues concerning the continent. “This session comes at a time when our continent is still riddled with poverty, wars and conflicts and human rights violations of all kinds and the citizens are increasingly aware of their rights, and demand for their rights and accountability from their governments.”
He noted that in spite of the progress made by the African readers, commitment to promote and protect human rights in the African charter on Human and peoples’ Rights and other regional human rights instruments including the constitutive Act of the African Union, human rights violations still persist, adding that human rights violations are not only occurring in one country but are rampant in varying forms and degrees across the continent.
According to Mr. Kaggwa, human rights violations are exacerbated by the lack of implementation of the international and regional human rights obligations, promotion and protection of human rights demand collective efforts. He expressed his organisation’s commitment to joining hand with African states and the African Union mechanisms to promote and protect the rights of people on the African continent.
“We believe that coordinated efforts would help in the implementation of the international and regional human rights obligations. That is why as a Network of African Human Rights institutions, we organized a series of workshops between the AU human rights organs, National Human Rights institutions (NHRIs) and civil society organizations with the aim of strengthening collaboration. We are grateful to the members of the African commission who supported this initiative,” he said.
He further noted that the National Human Rights Institutions are complementary to already established institutions and by the nature of their work are in a good position to make unique contribution to a country’s efforts to protect its citizens and to develop a culture that is respectful of human rights and fundamental freedoms. He said they are vital for enhancement of public awareness of human rights through human rights education, advising and monitoring government’s compliance with international human rights instruments and investigation of alleged human rights violations.
He therefore said that the African Union, in its effort to make the human rights culture a reality in the continent, has recognized the important role played by NHRIs by including it in the African Human Rights strategy which according to him was recently developed in collaboration with the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
He then reiterated his institution’s commitment to working more closely with the AU mechanisms for human rights promotion and protection.