The 52nd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, held in Yamoussoukro, Cote D’Ivoire from 9-22 October 2012, celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the Commission.
In a speech highlighting the challenges and successes of the Commission, Commissioner Atoli listed the high level of NGO participation at its sessions and its important role as a forum for states, national human rights institutions (NHRIs), inter-governmental organisations and NGOs to discuss some challenging human rights issues as one of its significant achievements.
SALC has official observer status before the Commission and assisted a number of southern African NGOs in their own applications for observer status. At a preparatory meeting hosted by SALC in September the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) from Lesotho and the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) from Namibia were able to engage Commissioner Pansy Tlakula on the issue, and the Commissioner made an undertaking that the organisations’ applications would be processed. Both organisations were granted observer status at the session in Yamoussoukro. SALC also assisted the Election Support Centre from Zimbabwe to travel to Cote D’Ivoire and submit their application for observer status, and will be supporting the Centre for Human Rights and Development in Swaziland in their application.
As mentioned by Commissioner Atoli, NGOs with observer status play an important role in holding the mechanisms of the Commission accountable. Special rapporteurs and chairpersons of the various special mechanisms of the African Commission present reports at the public session, and NGOs with observer status are able to make interventions and ask questions during these public sessions.
In Yamoussoukro SALC made a number of interventions on a variety of issues during these presentations.
The Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa discussed the many challenges facing women in Africa including gender based violence, maternal and abortion death rates, discrimination and inequality, and the situation of women in armed conflict. She also recommended the establishment of a Working Group on Reproductive Health in Africa to study the barriers to reproductive health.
SALC cited its litigation on women’s right to chieftaincy in Lesotho, the ability of women to inherit property in Botswana and the coerced sterilisation of women in Namibia, and urged the Commission to adopt a resolution calling upon states to prevent and prohibit the forced sterilisation of women living with HIV/AIDS, given reports of the prevalence of the practice in Kenya, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania. The Special Rapporteur requested that SALC submit a draft resolution for consideration.
People Living with, and Affected by, HIV/AIDS
The Chairperson of the Committee on the protection of the Rights of People living with HIV and those at Risk, Vulnerable to and Affected by HIV (PLHIV Committee) explained that the mandate of her committee was to raise awareness on human rights violations which affected the vulnerable group of people living with or affected by HIV. She referred to the stigma, discrimination, marginalisation, gender-inequalities and inadequate human rights protections that are both a cause and consequence of the HIV epidemic in Africa.
In its submissions SALC urged the PLHIV Committee to engage with the July 2012 Global Commission Report entitled HIV and the Law: Risks, rights and health, and requested the Committee to urge states parties to implement the progressive recommendations of the Global Commission. The PLHIV Committee requested that SALC submit that report for their consideration. SALC also promised to submit its cervical cancer report to the Commission once it has been published.
Freedom of Expression and Access to Information
Commissioner Pansy Tlakula, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, launched the Decriminalisation of the Freedom of Expression Project, a project initiated after the adoption of a 2010 African Commission resolution calling upon AU member states to repeal criminal defamation and insult laws.
SALC was urged by the Commissioner to take the lead in decriminalisation advocacy campaigns within the SADC region.
Prison and Conditions of Detention
At this session the African Commission adopted a resolution on the need to develop guidelines on conditions of police custody and pre-trial detention in Africa. The Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention, Med Kaggwa, had detailed the challenges in African prisons including overcrowding, ill-treatment, torture, a failure to protect women and children, difficulties in accessing HIV/AIDS treatment and a general lack of political will to improve conditions.
The Open Society Justice Initiative, Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa and Legal Resources Forum (Kenya Chapter) indicated their interest in partnering with SALC’s prisoners’ rights programme to improve prisoners’ rights and conditions of detention.
The Working Group on Communications (WGC) is tasked with considering all communications in respect of issues placed before the Commission for recommendation.
Commissioner Silvie Kayitesi explained that the contributing factors to the weakness of the individual complaints procedure include non-compliance with the decisions of the African Commission and lack of knowledge on filing communications. There is also a sense that the Commissions decisions are inaccessible and that there is a lack of visibility of the communications procedure due to the fact that the consideration of communications is conducted in private and that decisions will only be made public after adoption by the African Heads of State and Government at their biannual summits.
As part of her recommendations she urged NGOs to pressurise governments to enforce the African Commission’s decisions and to assist litigants to file communications. As part of a group of NGOs engaging the WGC to improve the African Commission’s communications procedure SALC will contribute to efforts in setting up a legal aid clinic to help NGOs and individuals to file communications at the African Commission.
A full report on the session and SALC’s interventions will be posted on the SALC website soon