In June 1981, African Heads of State reaffirmed their adherence to the principles of human and peoples’ rights and freedom; undertook to promote and safeguard freedom, justice, equity and human dignity on the Continent; and adopted the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter), which draws inspiration from international human rights norms and African values.
The adoption and entry into force of the African Charter, and the eventual establishment of the African Commission in November 1987, signaled a new era in the promotion and protection of human and peoples’ rights on the Continent.
In 1989, the African Commission, at its 5th Ordinary Session, in Benghazi, Libya, recommended that 21 October – the date the African Charter came into force - be commemorated each year, by all States Parties to the Charter, as AFRICA HUMAN RIGHTS DAY.
Africa Human Rights Day is thus a day when all stakeholders in the promotion and protection of human rights on the Continent have to take stock of the contributions they have made in enhancing human rights. It is a day to recommit efforts and resources into ensuring a culture of human rights on the Continent.
The commemoration this year coincides with the celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the establishment of the African Commission and therefore provides an opportunity for the African Commission to also take stock of its contribution to the African human rights landscape since its establishment.
As we commemorate Africa Human Rights Day and celebrate the 20th anniversary of the African Commission, the African Union remains concerned about the many human rights challenges on the Continent: armed conflicts, poverty, HIV/AIDS, natural diseases, sexual violence, arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights defenders, including journalists and activists.
Since the establishment of the AU, there has been a recommitment by African leaders to the ideals of human rights protection, and an ever-increasing realization that unity, peace and sustainable development cannot be realized without respect for human rights. The establishment of organs such as the Peace and Security Council, Economic, Social and Cultural Council, Pan African Parliament, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, among others, is a demonstration of the Continent’s determination to mainstream human rights in the programmes, policies and discourse of the AU. The adoption of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance in January 2007, further expands the scope and integrates the principles of human rights in the political space on the Continent.
On this Human Rights Day, the African Union would like to pay tribute to all organisations working in various domains of human rights in Africa. The African Union also salutes the many human rights activists and human rights defenders who, in formal and informal settings, in large and small communities, often in difficult and hazardous situations, contribute to building a culture of human rights on the Continent. They have demonstrated that human rights are our common heritage and their realisation depends on the contributions that each and every one of us is willing to make, individually and collectively, now and in the future.
If we look back twenty years after the establishment of the African Commission, we can say with some satisfaction that we are undoubtedly moving forward in the right direction. We have been slow in taking some steps; we have dithered at times, and stumbled some times. We have had success on some fronts, and setbacks on some others, but there is no doubt that we have been steadfast in our resolve, firm in our convictions and resolute in our commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights on the Continent.
In commemorating this year’s Africa Human Rights Day, the African Union would like to call upon all the peoples of Africa and the international community to uphold and adhere to all human rights obligations and responsibilities, so as to resolve, once and for all, the Continent’s human rights challenges, build a durable culture of respect for human rights and ensure a climate of peace and security, for sustainable development in Africa.