Angela Melo

Activities as Special Rapporteur on Rights of Women


     REPORT ON INTERSESSION ACTIVITIES
    Of the
    SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR
    ON
    THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN IN AFRICA

    ------------

      39TH Ordinary Session
    AFRICAN COMMISSION ON
    HUMAN AND PEOPLES’ RIGHTS

    11 to 25 May 2006, BANJUL, The Gambia

     


    This report describes my activities carried as Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa between the 38th and the 39th Ordinary Sessions of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

    Activities carried out during the 38th Ordinary Session of the African Commission.

     

    1. I was invited by the Forum on the participation of NGOs at the 39th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights by the African Centre on Democracy and for Human Rights Studies (in the Gambia) to make a case for the ratification of the Protocol by all African States. The Forum discussed the establishment of a regional follow-up body for the implementation of the said Protocol and encouraged participants to establish national committees to help set in motion the follow-up body for the implementation of the Protocol. 
    2. During the 38th Ordinary Session, I did some lobbying amongst State Delegations. I used the opportunity to apprise them of the provisions of the Protocol and the relevance of this instrument to the African context;
    3. At the commemoration of  the official entry into force of the Protocol to the Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, on 25th November, 2005, I gave a speech highlighting the importance of this landmark in women’s rights. I enjoined participants at the 38th session to make all efforts for all African Union Member States to ratify the Protocol for the effective realisation of the Rights of women in Africa. I also attended a meeting of the Gambian Civil Society commemorating the entry into force of the Protocol organised by the African Centre for Human Right and Democracy.

    Intersession Activities:


    1. Notes verbales and letters for the ratification of the Protocol were sent to countries where I had been on mission and to other specially targeted countries : la Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Burundi, Angola, Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and  Principe;
    2. Letters were to the Commissioners from Tanzania, Botswana, Sudan and Algeria for them to sensitise their Governments on the ratification of the Protocol as their States that have yet to do.
    3. I kept in touch with Women Non Governmental Organisations and the National Groups pushing the ratification and implementation of the Protocol;
    4. I lobbied Mozambican Parliamentarian and Women Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Justice and for Women and Family Affairs.  In December 2005, Mozambique ratified the Protocol, but the instrument has not entered into force at the National level because the ratification instrument for the Protocol itself has yet to be published in the Official Gazette. The Protocol is now being printed at the National Printing Office.
    5. In December, 2005, I wrote to Honourable Gertrude Monguela, Chairperson of the Pan African Parliament to foster cooperation in the harmonisation of domestic laws with the protocol. I have yet to receive a reply from her. This issue was raised and resolved at the May 26 Brainstorming meeting between the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Organs of the African Union. Collaboration between the Pan African Parliament and the Commission has now been set in motion.
    6. I participated at the 14th Session of the Board of the Penal Reform International (PRI), in London, from 27 to 28 January, 2006. Together with six other persons I was nominated as a Board member;
    7. In February 2006, I had a meeting with the Minister for Women’s Affairs in Mozambique. We had discussions both on the dissemination activities to be carried out by the Ministry on the Protocol and the role of Mozambican NGOs and on the proposed National Gender Policy being drafted by the Cabinet. We agreed to lobby his counterparts and eventually the national policy was adopted by Cabinet and conveyed to Parliament. I have distributed copies of the draft National policy to the Mozambican Human Rights NGOs and requested them to lobby Parliament for its ratification;
    8. On 18 April, 2006 I organised a National Consultative meeting with the Mozambique Civil Society to strategise on how to create awareness about the Protocol and to define the role of NGOs in the implementation of the Protocol;
    9. I requested for audiences with three Mozambican Ministers for Labour, the Interior and Public Works to familiarise them with the provisions of the Protocol with respect to their sphere of activities.

    I plan to look into two issues with the Minister of the Interior: first the institutionalisation of police departments dealing with violence against Women and Children. and second, the training of police officers in the SADC area of East Africa on violence against women.

    Actually, there is a manual on training of police officers in the SADC region and I plan to work on it and encourage other regions in Africa to use such tools.

    With the Minister of Public Works I will go into the pivotal issue of access to drinking water.

    The Minister of Labour acquiesced to my request for an audience but unfortunately I could not attend. I do know, however that strategies on labour have been adopted recently and that certain chapters are devoted to women;

    1. Following the establishment of a new Government in Mozambique, I had an audience with the Secretary General of the Office of the President briefed him on the Protocol and on my activities as Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa. The Secretary General requested me to convey to him a paper on the relevant rules and principles governing a specific legal issue on enjoyment of a given categories of rights. This paper is being drafted;
    2. I am still lobbying Planers within Ministries working on the annual economic and social plan to mainstream gender in their modus operandi;
    3. Within the framework of the formal agreement for cooperation with the Centre Centre for Human Rights of the University Pretoria for technical and financial assistance to the Special Rapporteur, a web site has been designed and we are now at the final stages of the launching;
    4. In March 2006, I participated at a Strategic Planning workshop for the ECOWAS region on violence against Women in Abuja Nigeria, I gave the opening statement and chaired the discussions sessions. I also informed the workshop of the proposed adoption of a report on the Studies on Violence against Women by the Commission at this ordinary session. Once adopted the report will form the basis of a joint action plan to combat violence against women;
    5. On 4th April, 2006 during the NGO Forum on the Rights of Women in Maputo (Mozambique) I participated at a national meeting on the adoption of the bill on domestic violence and made observations on the bill: 
    6. On 9th May, 2006 I met the network of African women at the Seminar organised by an NGO, WACOL[1],  briefed them on my activities and urged them to be involved in activities of the follow-up body for the implementation of the Protocol. Many of the participants are Lawyers and asked questions on the procedure for submission of communications to the Commission. I responded accordingly and advised them to organise professional training workshops for legal practitioners in their respective countries. The Network complained of the lack of funding for the promotion of the rights of women. I hereby sound an appeal to all donors to support NGO involved in the promotion of Women’s rights;
    7. On the 11th and 12th May, 2006, I went to the United Nations, in New York, in my capacity as Member of the Experts Advisory Committee on the Study of the Secretary General of the United Nations on violence against women.  The study is in its final stages: the chapters have already been drafted and we are now drafting the Conclusions and Recommendations. The Secretary General Study’s will be presented in September, 2006 and the recommendations for Member States made known.  My contribution to the study was based on information collected from studies on violence on women commissioned by the Commission in collaboration with Civil Society. In fact the Commission plans to adopt the draft report of the study at this session.

     

    Proposed distribution of the Protocol

     

    1. In collaboration with the NGO members of SOAWR[2], I drafted a document on strategies for the ratification and implementation of the Protocol. This document is meant for all prospective partners in the promotion of the rights of African women including Member States and Civil Society. The protocol was distributed at the NGO Forum;
    2. We agreed with the WILDAF[3], a non-governmental organisation to compile a simplified version of the Protocol to be given to interested NGOs and States for distribution to rural women and indigenes;
    3. Two years ago, the UNDP office, in Mozambique, approved funds for the dissemination of the Protocol.  I plan to work with UNIFEM which already has a plan for the dissemination of the Protocol in some areas of the SADC region  and use the UNDP funds to extend the proposed dissemination to the entire SADC region;
    4. The Mozambique NGOs are currently drawing up a national plan for the implementation of the Protocol. All the NGO present at the 18th April Maputo[4] meeting will identify their priority provisions and areas of intervention for incorporation  in the plan. Funding for the implementation of the activities will be sourced according to the plan.
    5. In March 2006, I had discussions with the representatives of a non-governmental organisation, OXFAM, (Mozambique) on funding for the dissemination of the Protocol in Mozambique. A project document was prepared and will be submitted to the Commission  in the event OXFAM decides not to grant funds directly to the Mozambique NGOs.

     

    Current assignments:

     

    1. Work is continuing on the amendment of the guidelines for the presentation of initial and periodic reports by State Parties to the Commission under article 62 of the Charter. One amendment is the addition of a new section, on measures taken by the State Parties for the promotion and protection of women’s’ rights in Africa. The proposal to include a chapter on Women in the reports submitted by the Member States, in accordance with the African Charter is meant to avoid duplication. This project is a follow-up to the initiative mooted by the first Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, Commissioner Julienne Ondziel- Gnelenga during her mandate from  1999-200, then the protocol had not yet entered into force. I am presently redrafting the project. A group of students at the University of Pretoria (South Africa) has expressed its interest to work on the drafting of the guidelines. I have provided them the terms of reference and the parameters for the research;
    2. A of parties involved in the promotion and protection of the rights of women in Africa is being compiled with the addresses of Ministries responsible for gender issues, government organisations and non- governmental organizations.. I have sent notes verbales to the ministries of foreign affairs of Member States of the African Union requesting them to send the full addresses of all Ministries dealing with gender issues, justice and family matters. I urge Member States of the African Union at this session to take note of this request and to respond at their earliest convenience;
    3. The will also contain the addresses of national human rights institutions with affiliate status and NGOs with observer status at the present Commission. However, since the Secretariat of the African Commission does not dispose of any information on several other organizations, I have reverted to alternative means to secure the information e.g. through exchanges of lists of participants at seminars organized by the civil society. I therefore call on organizations without observer or affiliate status at the Commission and who are interested in being on the directory to forward their contact addresses to the Secretariat of the Commission.
    4. I am now collating information and data on the human rights situation and de facto situation of women in Africa, to conduct a comparative study. I sent Notes verbales to Members States of the African Union requesting them to send a copy of the Constitution in force in their country. During the intersession I will send a questionnaire to States and urge the African Union Member States to collaborate with the African Commission by providing the information requested by the latter. 
    5. For the purposes of the comparative study, I also called on NGOs to send information on the human rights situation and de facto situation of women in Africa. I call on NGOS present at this session to contact the Secretariat of the Commission to share the information in their possession;
    6. I am working on a follow-up body for the implementation of the Protocol. This body will be overseen by a steering committee comprising dignitaries in influential positions and knowledgeable in Women Rights as well as representatives of Regional NGOs. I plan to officially approach the following the organs by the 40th Ordinary Session:
    • The Department for Women, Gender, and Development of the Commission of the African Union - Dr Winnie Byanyima ;
    • The SADC  gender  Department;
    • NEPAD gender Department;
    • The Organ responsible for the programme: : African Peer Review mechanism (APRM) ;
    • The Department responsible for violence against women at the Regional Economic Community: ECOWAS;
    • The Departments responsible for Gender issues at the Regional Economic Community :COMESA ;
    • The Economic Community of African (ECA)
    • Ministers responsible for the  promotion of  women.
    1.  With a view to establishing the follow-up body for the implementation of the Protocol, I hope to initiate a special partnership with the Department for Women’s Affairs, Gender and Development of the African Union Commission. In April 2006, this organ of the African Union established an Advisory Committee on Women chaired by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mozambique, answerable to the Chairman of the African Union Commission. I would also like to meet Dr Winnie Byanyima of the Department for Women’s Affairs, Gender and Development of the African Union Commission to collaborate on the implementation of the instruments for the protection of the rights of women in Africa.

     

    Proposed Missions

     

    1. I was supposed to conduct a  promotion mission in Mauritania. The terms of reference for the Mission were conveyed to the Mauritanian authorities who gave approval,  we agreed on the dates but had to defer the mission as some of the Mauritanian government officers had to participate in the session of the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. Recently, the Government of Mauritania proposed new dates which coincided with my mission to Pretoria for the Working Group on specific issues relating to the work of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Unfortunately the proposed dates were too close to our 39th ordinary session so I will be meeting with the representatives of the Mauritanian Delegation during this session to set new dates. I hereby extend my profound gratitude to the Mauritanian Government  for its cooperation;
    2. I had planned a promotion mission to Ethiopia since the 37th Ordinary Session of the African Commission. I hereby urge the Government of Ethiopia to accede to the fielding of this mission;
    3. I would also like to seek the authorisation of the Government of Tunisia to conduct a promotion mission in Tunisia;
    4. I had also scheduled a promotion mission to Equatorial Guinea but I am yet to receive a reply to my request from the Government;
    5. I had envisaged a promotion mission to Algeria. Commissioner Rezag Bara has informed me the Government willingness to receive me, I shall therefore send a formal request to field the mission soon;
    6. Following discussions with the distinguished representative of the Lesotho delegation, a promotion mission will be fielded in Lesotho.

     

    WAY FORWARD

    To date, 18 countries have submitted their ratification instruments to the Commission of the African Union:  Benin, Cape Verde, Comoros, Djibouti, The Gambia, Libya, Lesotho, Mali, Malawi, Mozambique, Mauritania, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, de South Africa, Senegal,  Seychelles and  Togo.  A number of countries are on the verge of submitting their ratification instruments to the African Union, including Algeria. I hereby urge countries that are yet to ratify this important instrument to do so expeditiously, and without reservations.

    Further, I would like to highlight at this point that in May 2006 The Gambia lifted all the reservations the Government of the Gambia had expressed in September 2005 when the Protocol was ratified.

    The  Notes Verbales sent to Members have proved useful in the rapid ratification of the Protocol. However, since a number of States have yet to sign or ratify the Protocol, I plan to follow-up on this issue with the member states concerned by sending them Notes Verbales. I will also continue to urge my fellow Commissioners to appeal to Governments to ratify and implement the protocol. I will keep up my cooperation with the NGOs and seize this opportunity to mention their hard work for the promotion and protection of Human Rights in Africa.

    The distribution of the Protocol is of capital importance. Women whose rights are violated should know their rights as well as the available remedies for redress. In order to promote the application of the protection mechanisms of the African Commissions, training workshops should be organised for NGOs representing women’s rights.

    In this light, Professional Training for national judiciary staff should be encouraged to ensure proper domestication of the Protocol in the National Laws.

    The implementation of the Protocol is now a priority following its entry into force, on 25 November, 2005. Actions aimed at the realisation of women’s rights encompass the strategies for the ratification by all African Union Member States, the distribution and the implementation of the Protocol.   

    This is the spirit guiding our actions and I urge all Member States, international, government, and non-governmental organizations to strive for the promotion and  protection of the rights of Women on the African Continent.



    [1] Women Aid Collective

    [2] SOWAR is a coalition of 19 international, regional, and national organisations pushing for the ratification on the rights of women in Africa.

    [3] Women in Law and Development in Africa.

    [4] The 18th April meeting refers to activities in paragraph 11 of this report.

     

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    Angela Melo

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